Alexander Alpeyev

I REMEMBER LIFE


INSTEAD OF A PREFACE

As long as I live I feel captivated by the corner of the blessed Belarusian land that is so dear to my heart. The feeling of love for the tiny spot of the universe is immense, plaintive and never ending. Year after year the feeling grows stronger; the love is merely staggering, all-absorbing and everlasting. The source of my creative work is the blessed land and the people who live there. The whole of my mind is full of my dear Motherland. I hear its forests singing, nightingales warbling and frogs croaking, I can smell the scent of pine forests … All this is dear to my heart and will belong to me forever; it brings about a unique state of my mind. The land gifted to people by God is the greatest treasure. It is their breadwinner. One should understand this and be taught love for his land at his mother's knee, just like it was a century ago when people were ready to sacrifice their lives for their land. Things have changed a lot and now avidity and profit are rife and rampant. Very few people think of their land as breadwinner. The only thing they strive for is to take from it as much as possible and to give back little. Misunderstanding of the role of the land and faith in a person's life is the greatest tragedy. There has arisen a sharp question of what exactly love for land implies. One can find a great many answers to this question. I seem to have found the answer to this question for myself after deep meditation - one should perform deeds that are pleasing to God. This is manifestation of human love for God.

My land is my destiny!

 

MY BAREFOOTED CHILDHOOD

The mischievous river Naut that both romped about stones and turned into little waterfalls that could turn mill-wheels or stood still in a blissful manner when it emerged into a wide open area flew a hundred meters away from the grandfather's house where Alexander was born and grew up. Its water was so crystal clear you could easily see a small coin thrown onto its sandy bottom. The young rascal would snatch a moment when his mother who was doing the household chores relaxed her vigilance and run away to his favorite place on the bank of the river Naut. There, among the thickets of bird cherry trees and lilac, there was a narrow neck of water that could be forded. Lying in the thick fragrant grass that covered him almost up to his head Sasha would spend hours watching the wonderful underwater world that staggered by its variety even in this small river; he would listen to the shrill of the cicada and birds singing and admired butterflies that never looked alike. After finding the runaway the mother would smack him repeating kindly, 'Take that, and that! You are punished for running away without permission. If you disobey once again, I will give you away to Baba-Yaga!' Sasha would tear himself from his mother's tender hands, run away at a safe distance and object from there jumping on his foot and making funny faces, 'You won't! You won't!' -I will as I do not need a naughty boy like you! -You won't because Baba-Yaga doesn't exist. -Well, then, I will tell the father about everything. The mention of the father always worked. Although Sasha was his father's pet, this never softened the punishment for his pranks. The teenager remembered being strapped by his father's army belt forever. His father strapped him quite often. He did this without any good reason, just because he thought this to be an integral part of upbringing. There was a sort of gradation of strapping when the boy was punished by the leather part of the belt for minor pranks and by the belt buckle for more serious ones. At times the father could lose his self-control and strap his son on the back or fetch him a blow on the head. Yet, this never influenced his love for his son, he was ready to sacrifice his life for him. Once Sasha fell off the stove onto the cogs of a saw that was leant against the wall and wounded his groin seriously. Nikolai Rudnev mounted a horse, rushed to Zhitkovichy like an arrow and brought the best district surgeon from there. He did not leave his son for a moment during the operation. After that he went to see off the doctor and did not come back for a long time. His wife who was very anxious found him at the hayloft. He was crying there with his face buried in the sweet-scented hay. He had not had nervous breakdown of the kind since he was at the front… On the wall of the front room, as long as Sasha could remember, there always hang the portrait of an officer in the uniform of the tsarist army, with St. George's crosses on his chest. He was tall, stately, with jet-black hair. The mother always answered her son's questions about this man curtly, 'This is your grandfather Alexander. Both you and me were named after him.' Then she would give a bitter sigh and add, 'Sasha, if only you knew what kind of man he was!' For some reason the mother always denied the urgent requests of her son to tell in more detail what sort of man the grandfather had been. She used to say, 'When the time comes you will find everything out.' The grandson unraveled the mystery of Alexander Kirbay many years later, owing to some unforeseen circumstances… The Rudnev family lived a poor life and did not stand out from the rest of the village dwellers, though the father was chairman of the local kolkhoz 'Sovetskaya Belorussia'. They could have built a house of their own a long time ago. Yet, Nikolai Rudnev responded to all his wife's entreaties in an angry way, 'Widows still live in huts and dugouts, while you want to live in a palace!' Thus, they were squeezed together, the families of Alexander and her sisters, in the house built by their father Alexander Kirbay. When Rudnev finally made up his mind to build a house, he constructed it in a new place, on sandy soil, where it was impossible to walk barefoot in summer as the sand was extremely scorching. He did so because he did not want to stand out from the rest of the villagers.


***


The beginning of school life stayed in Sasha Rudnev's memory due to the event that shocked the whole of the village. It was March of 1953. The spring was late. The river Naut was still covered by ice, though people feared to walk on it as it could crack any moment. Bathing in ice-cold water could bring good to no one. The village lived its unhurried life. Machinery was being prepared for the sowing campaign in the kolkhoz repair shops. They did not have much of it - just a track-type tractor and two wheel tractors, a run-down 30-cwt lorry, a threshing machine, a winnowing machine and some more agricultural implements. Horses still remained the main draught force. Women were drying up and sorting grain. It was not sufficient, as usual, so chairman went to district authorities every week trying to get some more grain out of the reserve. The first secretary of the district committee neither refused nor promised anything. -Rudnev, you are a former front line soldier and you know quite well that just like in wartime the reserve may be used only as a last resort and directed there where there is a case of emergency. Your kolkhoz is quite solid, and people there live quite well. Just scrape the bottom of the barrel! -We have scraped everything completely. Mice cheep with hunger. People will have nothing to sow their plots of land with. -Well, let them plant potatoes, then. They will get grain for their workdays. Going away empty-handed and upset, cursing his horse up hill and down dale, Nikolai Rudnev would go back home. A week later he would go to district authorities once again, following the unsophisticated worldly wisdom 'No pains, no gains'. On Sundays men used to gather at the village shop. They hid out from their wives, clubbed together to buy a bottle of wine to split it with each other right there round the corner and discussed political news smoking rolled cigarettes. Wired radio had not been installed in the village at the time, though talks about it had been going on for a long time. No one in the village had wireless radio sets as they were very expensive, while batteries did not last out for long. But on the other hand, there was a telephone in the Soviet of the village, which was a rare thing for those times, though it operated erratically. Fitful wind tore fragile wires as if they were threads. Telephone operators did not have any transport and could depend only on their shoe leather. Even if they managed to find the rupture it was almost impossible to repair it when it was 40 degrees below zero or when the roads were bad. That is why news reached Rudna with delay, although the village was in immediate proximity to the district centre. It was March 7. It was still dark outside. The Rudnevs woke up as somebody was knocking loudly at the window. -Chairman, wake up! -What the hell! Who's over there at such an early hour? The father swore dirtily and turned to the other side as he wanted to sleep badly. The knocking at the window went on. Alexandra's heart sank as she had bad foreboding. The year of 1938 and arrival of Black Maria came to her mind immediately. The children started to move in their beds as they were woken up by the noise. -Kolya, wake up! War must have begun! -What?! When he heard the words the father jumped out of bed as if stung by a bee and rushed to the door just as he was in his underwear. Vladimir Semenovich, a former front-line soldier who was on friendly terms with Nikolay Rudnev and who frequently took Sasha with him fishing, barged into the house in wreaths of frosty exhalation breathing heavily. That night Semenov was on duty in the village Soviet and received the message that shook him so much. He was in such a hurry to let know the message that he was running in the snow up to the very house of the chairman and now he couldn't get his breath. He was breathing through the mouth and reminded of a stranded fish. Rudnev was waiting patiently. At last Semenov recovered his breath and uttered, 'Stalin has died…' Alexandra started wailing. The children who didn't know what had happened but who were aware that it was something terrible began howling. Rudnev dropped heavily at the bench that was near the table without breathing a word. Semenov kept standing fiddling with a shabby ear flapped fur hat. Alexandra was the first to come to her senses. -Goodness me, what shall we do? How are we going to live? Rudnev didn't say anything to her. He took a pack of cigarettes and offered it to Semenov but the latter declined the offered cigarette. Instead, he took a tobacco pouch and a thick pile of neatly cut news print out of the pocket of his sheepskin jacket, took one leaf, sprinkled it lavishly with low-grade homegrown tobacco, wetted the tip of the paper with saliva and rolled a cigarette. They were smoking for some five minutes, filling the room with the acrid smell of tobacco. Semenov was the first to break the silence. -Shall we phone the district authorities? The phone works. -Do you think they know more than we do? They must be waiting for directions from the region authorities while the latter, in their turn, want some instructions from Minsk. We shouldn't act without thinking under the circumstances. Everything needs to be considered carefully. -I wonder if another war might start. I am afraid the Americans might take occasion to wage a war against us, just like the Germans did in 1941. -Comrade Stalin said a war is unlikely in the nearest future. I read his interview to 'Pravda'. Have no doubt, he won't tolerate this. -Kolya, but he is dead! It was only at the time that they gradually began to be aware of the scale of the misfortune that had fallen upon the country. Stalin, whose name they had had in their minds when they fell asleep and woke up, whose advice they had followed, whom they had pinned their hopes for the future with and whom they had worshipped so much, was no more. Although they realized he was far from being immortal and would die sooner or later they never thought it would happen in a dull and simple way. The leader had died as if he were an ordinary man! The thought made one shiver. Naturally, neither Rudnev nor Semenov knew the twists and turns of the life in Kremlin. This life was just as mysterious to them as the existence of God was. They couldn't even imagine the struggle for power that was starting at the time between Beriya, Khrushchev, Molotov and Malenkov. Each of them considered himself to be Stalin's successor. Soviet people learnt about these dramatic collisions much later. Nevertheless, the foreboding of a fatal tragedy united them into a single million-strong crying crowd. The village stood still in suspense. It seemed as if somebody invisible stopped the Earth from revolving. The village inhabitants crowded at the house of the chairman since morning till night hoping for some details, but the chairman himself knew as much as they did. The district authorities did not answer the phone. It was only several days later that a representative of the district committee of the party came to Rudna. The village library and reading room couldn't seat all village inhabitants as both young and old gathered to listen to the high-ranking official so they decided to hold the meeting outside. It was slushy but the people stood bare-headed and listened in breathless suspense. The district representative spoke slowly, picking his words. -Comrades, a great disaster has befallen our country. Comrade Stalin, the leader of the Soviet people and the whole of the world proletariat has passed away. This is an irretrievable loss to our nation. Our sorrow is immeasurable and impossible to articulate. Yet, the party appeals to you with the mandate to strengthen the unity that Josef Vissarionovich left. Comrade Stalin left after himself the grand plans of building socialism. His faithful comrades-in-arms will continue his cause… The district representative went on talking, but nobody listened to him any more. People continued to hope till the very last moment that the news of Stalin's death was merely a provocation, a rumor set by imperialists and their accomplices who were abundant at the time. Even comrade Molotov's wife, Polina Zhemchuzhnikova who was standing trial in Moscow at the time, turned out to be a traitor who had passed important information to Israeli intelligence… Yet, the news was no rumor at all, and comrade Stalin has really passed away… Women cried very loudly. Men who were ashamed to cry in their presence brushed their tears away stealthily… The sowing campaign and pressing matters to do with it gradually put Stalin's death to the background. Men still went on gossiping about the coming changes but the talks were less keen as life had its effect. Alexandra puzzled her brains for a long time how to provide clothes for the elder son to go to school. Finally, by her husband's consent, she decided to make use of his front overcoat made of sturdy fabric that couldn't be worn out. She carefully cut out the overcoat and sewed two small overcoats that looked just like the father's. You should have seen Sasha who was walking to school for the first time wearing the new overcoat and carrying a map case over his shoulder. All eyes of his peers fixed on him, the boy imagined himself to be a real soldier. The primary school was located in Rudna, at a stone's throw, so the parents had no problems with children during their first four years at school. The children did well at school. Sasha astonished everyone by his good memory. He could repeat a poem almost without a fumble after reading it once. He was an avid reader. Almost every day he would bring a new book from the village library and devour page after page sitting on the stove bench by the dim light of a lamp. They happened to run out of kerosene as it was delivered to the village shop quite rarely, and then he would read by the light of a splinter. Alexandra doted on her elder son. He was growing old before her very eyes, was becoming independent and adopted the very best qualities of his father. He was just as active and principled. When he was in the third form he was appointed chairperson of the school group council. Sasha Rudnev performed his duties with responsibility. He patronized first formers, organized collection of waste paper and scrap metal, held pioneers' meetings and competitions in chess and draughts. He was so good at playing chess and draughts that there would always gather a crowd of people around him in the village library and reading hall whenever he got down to playing. It was interesting to watch the boy, knee-high to a grasshopper, who beat all grown-ups. At the same time, he never had his nose in the air and valued justice most of all. Once a pupil who was naughty during a break broke a device the teacher brought to carry out an experiment at the lesson. The damage was petty but the one who did this might catch it from the teacher. Sasha ordered his classmates, 'Don't tell anyone who did this'. The teacher who was entering the class at the moment heard him saying this. -Who do you cover, Rudnev? He should have been sent up the river a long time ago. You should be a shamed of yourself. You are chairman of the group council, so you should be an example for others to follow. She seized Sasha's hand and tore off his stripes. -You do not deserve to be a leader of young Leninists. You'll have to answer for your lie. You and your father will have to go to the district committee of the party tomorrow. The boy was crying bitterly. Squeezing in his fist the stripes he took off the floor he made a step forward to the teacher and said, 'I will go if I have to, but don't punish Ivan.' There was so much resolution in his words and posture that the teacher started back… After school Sasha always helped his mother keep house without being reminded. Besides splitting wood and seasonal work in the field his regular duties were to chop straw, to bring water, to feed the animals while the parents were absent, to milk the cow and to look after the younger brother. Alexandra always left him at home with a light heart. It goes without saying that kids remained kids. Sasha and Kolya liked to be naughty despite their strict upbringing. It was especially in summer that one had to keep a constant eye on them. The two-year difference in age at the juvenile period didn't prevent them from being friends so the Rudnev brothers were like hand in glove. They would go to the river Naut together without their mother's knowledge and would go to pick pees secretly at the kolkhoz field. Every time they went on their pees sortie they prepared carefully. First of all, they had to snatch the moment when the father went to the district center as he always kept his eye on the kolkhoz land so that even a mouse couldn't make off with a small ear from the field. To get into the tenacious hands of the father meant being beaten mercilessly. The team leader who was left responsible for the farm while the chairman was away was also a danger. Their mother could track them down, too. She never gave them away, of course, but she could punch them for sure. Professional thieves are unlikely to prepare so thoroughly for the job when they want to rob a bank, unlike the Rudnev brothers who made a plan of their 'pees operation'. They would feverishly stuff green pods in their bosoms and would keep looking around. Nevertheless, to pick pees secretly was half the work. They had to deliver their loot to the village unnoticed and hide it in a privy place as you wouldn't regale yourself with pees in full view of the whole village because this would mean giving yourself away lock, stock and barrel. The boys would flunk at this point. Their father discovered their prank somehow and catching them red-handed he punished them without beating about the bush. The brothers endured the strapping and never betrayed one another. After their wounds healed they would go to the field to pick pees. Pees sorties, though punished mercilessly, worried the parents very little. The passion of teenagers for arms collection was far more dangerous. After the war, there remained whole arsenals of arms in the woods of Polesye where the operation 'Bagration' was held. One could find not only a handgun or a rifle but even a submachine gun, a machine gun, unexploded aerial bombs and shells. The places were like a magnet to boys. Despite the warnings of grown-ups, they behaved in an unconcerned manner and as a result many of them paid with their lives or became crippled. After an accident of the kind the father warned his sons, 'If I find out you have brought home at least a cartridge I will punish you severely!' The warning worked. *** In 1956 the secret of grandfather's death opened a little way to Sasha. Once Nikolai Rudnev came from the district center deeply vexed. He kept silence, smoked one cigarette after another and got irritated at a mere nothing, just as he always did when he was vexed. The children knew their father's nature, so they tried to make themselves scarce and were quiet as mice until the threat of unplanned strapping was over. Alexandra who was bustling about in the kitchen didn't hurry with her questions as well, and waited for her husband to tell everything himself. At last, the father started talking. -They are right saying don't trouble trouble until trouble troubles you! He is really asking for trouble! -Who is, Kolya? -You don't know who is? Nikita… -The one who works in the logging enterprise? -What a stupid thing you are! Nikita Khrushchev… -Well, he can't be all things to all people. But he's dirtied up Stalin's name. Communists were read out his secret address at the XX party congress today. He talked a lot of rubbish there. He claimed it was not Beriya but it was Stalin himself who killed millions of people. He said there were no enemies of the people and that innocent people were tried and executed. He also said it was Stalin who gave these orders. -This might be true, I suppose. -I said you are a stupid thing! It was Lavrentiy Beriya who was to blame for repressions. Khrushchev denounced him himself. They wrote in 'Pravda' how he framed people up and how prisoners were taunted at his command. They even aimed for Stalin himself. I think if Stalin is to blame for anything it is for his faith in this vile creature. It is impossible to look into everybody's heart. There are only 150 farmsteads in the kolkhoz and everyone seems to be in the public eye but people start behaving outrageously as soon as you stop watching them. Stalin was responsible for a huge country and millions of people! -Kolya, I wonder if my father was executed, too. Rudnev looked at his wife but didn't answer anything to her. He took another cigarette out of the pack and started turning it between his fingers thinking about something, and then he threw it into the stove without lighting it up. It was clear that doubts began to creep in his soul but he kept them off as he was a true Bolshevik. -What did they answer to your inquiry? Your father died in 1942 a hero's death. He really did. Why should they lie? Some more years passed. Newspapers more and more often wrote about rehabilitation of victims of Stalin's repressions. Alexandra accurately cut this information for some reason, tied it with elastic and hid this archive into her trunk. Once the postman brought the Rudnevs a letter from Moscow, as well as money order to the sum of 900 rubles. Sasha remembered the way his parents conversed in excited whispers, read some paper with a mysterious seal over and over again and divided the money into several equal piles. The words 'the killed' and 'compensation' grated on Sasha's ears. News spread very quickly in the village. Hardly had the postman closed the gate of the Rudnevs house when the whole of Rudna gossiped that Kirbay's children received compensation for their executed father. Some people sympathized with the family, some envied the easy money. This time the mother didn't avoid Sasha's questions. When she stayed at home one-to-one with her elder son, she asked him to sit beside herself and took a photograph that turned yellow in the course of time out of the trunk where family heirlooms were kept. Sasha had never seen the photograph before. There was a big group of people in the picture. The boy recognized Grandfather Alexander at once. Although he had civilian attire on, he almost didn't differ from the man depicted in the picture hanging on the wall. The only difference was that his jet-black hair was beginning to go grey. Not far from the standing grandfather there sat Stalin, Voroshilov, Kaganovich and others who were apparently important people and whose names the boy didn't know. Sasha remembered his mother's story for life… After World War I Alexander Kirbay returned home with a party-membership card in his pocket and a shell splinter that got stuck between the ribs. He built a house and settled down to married life. He was a diligent and non-drinking man, which was uncommon even for those days. Poor men in the village often drowned their sorrows in raw vodka. Kirbay considered this to be a whim. He rose at cockcrow and went to bed after midnight. Only a lazy bone has nothing to do in his household in the village. Although there were five children in the family, four girls and a boy, they were not extremely hard up. In the evening there were village gatherings in the house of the Kirbays. Men gathered in one corner and women in another. Each of the companies had a leisurely talk of their own. Men would roll thick cigarettes and roll them, so the whole of the room was full of blue-grey mist, and talked about politics. Alexander Kirbay was an indisputable authority. He willingly shared the knowledge he received at 'trench universities' and could speak about any question that was of interest to village dwellers. Yet, when anyone mentioned Black Maria wagons they heard rumors about in the village he interrupted the one who talked, 'It's none of our business! Stalin knows about everything and he will surely sort everything out.' The hostess was the center of attention in the second corner. She usually sat at the spinning wheel spinning thread and directing the talk in the proper course. They talked purely about village matters. Somebody's cow calved and gave birth to a she-calf which was bad as a bull-calf could be fed for a while and sold later. Another man had his roof worn out and he had no money to roof it over. Another person's children were going to start studies at school so whether they liked it or not the parents had to fork out money for footwear. The children couldn't wear bast shoes like they did under the tsar… In fact there are a lot of matters in everyday village life that have to be discussed. Both the companies didn't interfere into the talks of each other. Sometimes it seemed they were absolutely indifferent to what was going on in the opposite corner. Yet, one needed only to touch upon somebody else's subject matter when a caustic remark followed immediately … Once, Alexander Kirbay was called to go to Zhitkovichy's district party committee. The assistant of the first secretary brought two faceted glasses of tea and lump sugar on the saucer so the guest understood they were going to have an important talk. -Have you heard about comrade Stalin's instructions concerning collectivization? -I have. Methinks, we are literate and read newspapers. -What's the opinion of collectivization in the village? -It depends. The poor are glad as they hope to subsist at somebody else's expense. Those who are well-off enough are discontented as nobody wants to collectivize their own cow and horse. -Do you personally understand that collectivization of agriculture is a way to the bright tomorrow? -I do, but what is the use? You won't reach the tomorrow alone. -Well, the thing is that you are a Bolshevik so you should take up organizing a kolkhoz in Rudna. Gather the most conscious village dwellers, draw in Komsomol members and explain what is what to them. The party relies on you, comrade Kirbay! The authority of the Bolshevik Kirbay in Rudna was so significant that organizing the kolkhoz was accompanied by practically no excesses that were typical of collectivization everywhere. The inhabitants of Rudna joined into an agricultural commune although they were not extremely happy about it. The commune was called 'Sovetskaya Byelorussia'. They unanimously charged Kirbay with managing the farm. -It was you who persuaded us into joining so you should be at the head. After he became chairman, Alexander Kirbay spent day and night in the kolkhoz. Wearing a soldier's blouse and jodhpurs, carrying a map case, with a service cap in the manner of Stalin on his head he would appear in his cart pulled by two horses anywhere where there was some problem. Even the most thorough idlers snatched at saws and axes when they saw him as they knew the chairman could make short work of them. When words didn't work he could give a smack on the jaw. Things went on smoothly in the kolkhoz; workdays were somehow paid so the collective farmers didn't complain about the management style of the kind. Yet, every family has its black sheep. There turned up some people in Rudna who didn't quite like the rise of Alexander Kirbay. Whenever they met the chairman, the self-employed farmers Yephim Semenov and Philip Bondar spoke through their clenched teeth, 'Why do you keep fussing, Kirbay? Do you want to gain favor? Take care, things could turn out badly.' The chairmanship of Alexander Kirbay didn't affect economic conditions of his own family. Things got even worse as Marpha had to shoulder all duties about the household. God knows how she managed to work in the kolkhoz, to look after the cattle and to bring up five children. She didn't expect any indulgences from her husband as she knew his nature. Other women knew his nature, too. That is why they warned Marpha when they came to ask her to help grind grain at the mill as there was always a queue there, 'Will you secretly ask the miller to help? But God forbid telling anything to Kirbay because he will fly off the handle.' The fame of the kolkhoz 'Sovetskaya Byelorussia' spread all over the republic. Even the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Byelorussia Nikolai Ghikalo came to visit the kolkhoz in late 20s. He was pleased by what he saw there. He said at the meeting of the group of district party activists, 'This is a truly Bolshevist approach to business. Comrade Kirbay, I thank you in the name of the party!' Soon Alexander Kirbay was transferred to the neighboring kolkhoz 'The Third International.' The kolkhoz was bigger but the things there didn't get going. Chairmen were appointed one after another but the things didn't get any better. The approach to business can't have been Bolshevist there. Kirbay was leaving with a heavy heart. Yet, he knew that assignments of the party, just as the orders of the commander, were not to be discussed. On the skirts of the village he met Philip Bondar. -Are you running away, Kirbay? Do you want to escape from punishment? Nothing will come out of it. It's going to happen very soon… Kirbay didn't respond to the threat. He glanced over the self-employed farmer scornfully and whipped the horses. Some time passed and the kolkhoz 'The Third International' started to be called the leading farm and held up as an example. In February 1935 the Second National Congress of collective farmers who were record-setters in work productivity was held in Moscow. Alexander Kirbay was included into the Byelorussian delegation. It was at the congress that some photographer took his photo in company with comrade Stalin and other leaders of the Soviet state. The photograph was kept as the most valuable treasure. The whole of Rudna visited the house of the Kirbays to have a look at the photo. -Alexander, you should not be afraid of anything now. The photo is better than any safe conduct. Kirbay was of the same opinion BUT Lavrentiy Beriya wasn't. One of September nights of 1938 when the gloom still didn't disperse a covered car called Black Maria approached their house on the skirts of the village. Marpha moved the curtain aside, looked out of the window and felt her heart sink. There was a loud knock at the door. -Open the door! -Just a moment! Let me get dressed. -Open, or we'll break off the door. The knocks of iron-heeled boots at the door proved firm intentions of the uninvited guests so Marpha hastily put a shawl on her shoulders and threw the latch off the hook. Three armed men in leather jackets burst into the house. -Are you Alexander Kirbay? -I am. -You are arrested. Marpha began to wail. The kids rushed to their father screaming. One of the officers threw them aside as if they were puppies. -There's no time to rattle on. Marpha started to fuss around the house. -Will you wait for a while? Let me collect some food for the road. -Do not worry. He will be fed to his heart content. We have a good ration. The man who said this showed his teeth giving a malicious smile. Alexander Kirbay didn't protest. He seemed to have prepared himself for this turn of events a long time ago. Only the unusual paleness of his face gave away his nervousness. -Do not worry, mother. Everything is going to be all right. You know that I am not guilty of anything. This is a mistake. Comrade Stalin will sort everything out. Take care of the children. I will be back soon. The next morning the whole village exchanged the news that Kirbay was the enemy of the people. The house of the chairman who was often asked for help and advice was now given a wide berth to. When fellow villagers encountered Martha unexpectedly they hang their heads and tried to pass by as quickly as possible. This was the most terrible thing about the situation. The days of expectation dragged on. For a moment it seemed the sorrow called on their house merely be accident. Marpha's brother Petr Kotsubinsky was a member of the revolutionary executive committee. When he learnt about Kirbay's arrest he dropped in at his sister's -Do not worry. I know that Alexander will be back soon. The mistake has already been clarified so the only thing that remains is to complete the formalities for the discharge. Marpha didn't quite believe her brother's words. She started crying and drew her children who crowded around her. Day after day passed but the husband never returned. Kirbay's daughters all of whom were Komsomol members began to be called to the regional committee. The secretary of the committee, a lean young man of about twenty who was trying to look more imposing than he was, spoke in a didactical manner, 'It turned out that your father is the enemy of the people. He managed to of the chairman of the kolkhoz for quite a long time. Yet, our security authorities can't be fooled. I understand you are having a hard time at the moment. I even sympathize with you, though I myself would never allow a traitor, even my own father, to harm the interests of the state for a long time and with impunity. Do you remember the way Pavlik Morozov acted? Komsomol members must be watchful, too. This is what comrade Stalin teaches us to do… Nevertheless, we give you a chance to correct your mistake. You must repudiate your father. Then I think that Komsomol members will forgive your faint-heartedness.' Alexandra could hardly hold back her tears. She wanted to say this plainly looking guy who repeated dispassionately the words he must have said many times before that her father was not an enemy, that his arrest was a silly mistake and that comrade Stalin would surely put right officials of the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs. This could not be otherwise as he was always reported about everything and acts in a just manner. Still, the cold eyes of the secretary of the district committee prevented her from uttering the words. Alexandra looked into his eyes and understood the guy would not believe her so she spoke in a barely audible whisper: -I won't repudiate my father, he isn't an enemy. -What?! The secretary jumped up and started to walk nervously round the spacious room. It was evident he wasn't used to the obstinacy of the kind. -Do you mean you don't believe officials of the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs? -I don't because they made a mistake. The secretary looked around in a frightened manner. -Do you understand what you are saying? You should be sent to prison for talking slanderously about the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs! I will surely report about. Now hand out your Komsomol membership card. The people like you should not be members of the organization that bears the name f Lenin. The talk to Alexandra's sisters proceeded in the same manner. Lida was the only one who couldn't endure the psychological pressure. She wrote a statement to the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs as dictated by the secretary of the district committee where she denounced her father and repudiated him. She was the only daughter of Alexander Kirbay who was allowed to remain a Komsomol member though she was severely reprimanded and warned for the displayed political shortsightedness. When Marpha learnt this she didn't say anything to her daughter. She gave a bitter sigh and wiped off tears by the edge of the shawl thrown onto her shoulders. Marpha collected all eatables that could be found in the house and sent Alexandra to Mozyr. The transit prison for political prisoners was located in St. Michael's Church. Outside the prison there crowded people with small bundles who didn't lose the hope to find at least anything out about their relatives and to see them if they were lucky enough. There was a Pioneer Palace across the road just opposite the church. The sounds of the bugle, drum roll, and merry songs of children contrasted sharply with the crying in the prison yard that never stopped. Alexandra was lucky enough as she was allowed to visit her father. She interpreted this as an encouraging sign. They met in front of an escort who was listening very carefully to their talk. He could interrupt their meeting in case he heard some unguarded word. I wonder what secrets they could hide from their state. The father looked cheerful and tried to smile. -Wait for a while. I have written an appeal to comrade Stalin. I will be released any day now. Help the mother. Alexandra didn't say the father anything about Lida's faint-heartedness. She decided not to upset him. She thought he would find everything out himself after he returned home. Alexandra's story that she repeated at the instance of her mother several times revived the hope for successful outcome although nobody in the village had ever seen those who were taken away by Black Maria come back home. Marpha consoled herself that those people were really enemies of the people while her husband had devoted himself to the kolkhoz and had never been anywhere except the district center so he couldn't be an enemy. Again there were days of painful waiting. Through Petr Kotsubinsky they found out that Alexander Kirbay was accused of criminal connections with the Polish counter-intelligence. Witnesses said they heard him contacting Pilsoudsky by means of a portable radio transmitter. The accusation sounded absurd and ridiculous as even not every military unit had a portable radio transmitter at the time. Village inhabitants didn't have any idea as to the way it looked like, not to mention using it to contact somebody. Moreover, what sort of state secret could an ordinary kolkhoz chairman reveal to the leader of Poland? Yet, officials of the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs didn't give themselves any trouble to look for verisimilar proof. They perceived any information as an established fact. Not every village inhabitant believed that Kirbay was a traitor. The neighbors who sympathized with Marpha told her Philip Bondar and Yephim Semenov had grassed on her husband. Common human envy made them do this. They couldn't tolerate the fact that Kirbay who was so similar to them when a child had suddenly made his way in the world and had become a big boss who had even been given the honor to be photographed with Stalin while they remained undereducated ragamuffins. When Marpha learnt about this she visited both Bondar and Semenov. Bondar met her in an aggressive manner. -Have you bossed around enough? You wanted to be masters and Stalin's equals? Now let your Sashka break his back at Kolyma. Marpha looked into his smacking eyes, crossed herself and left without saying a word. Semenov behaved in an absolutely different way. He saw Marpha from a distance, darted out to meet her, opened the gate and tried to explain something in a confused manner. He couldn't stand her straight look and sniffed, 'Marpha, it's not my fault... It just happened this way… It's entirely his fault. This son of a bitch made me drunk.' Yet, Marpha didn't listen to his explanations. She crossed herself, just like she did in the house of Bondar, and went out. Semenov was mincing immediately after. -I swear I didn't mean to. It just happened this way… Marpha didn't stop. She passed by Semenov fearfully running before her even without looking at him. She seemed to have hardened from intolerable suffering. Some time afterwards the whole of the village found out that Black Maria had carried away Yephim Semenov. It was much more difficult to try to obtain another meeting with the father. At last Alexandra was allowed to see the father. It was difficult to recognize him. He was crooked with beating, emaciated, absolutely grey-haired, with lackluster eyes and reminded very little the stately handsome Alexander Kirbay. His faith was all in bruises that even the thick bristle couldn't hide. 'They beat us very heavily here,' he whispered. Alexandra started telling about domestic affairs and did her best to smile. She said they were looking forward to seeing him and that nobody in the village doubts his forthcoming release but the father didn't react to her words. It was the first time Alexandra had seen tears in his eyes… Alexander Kirbay was sentenced by troika and executed by shooting in November 1938. The same days his brothers Vatslav and Nikolai, as well as Marpha's brothers Nikolai and Petr got their dose of the lead from the watchful People's Commissariat for Home Affairs. The five men were sacrificed on the altar of the struggle against the 'enemies of the people' by the related families of the Kirbays and the Kotsubinskys. All in all, due to false denunciations and framed-up cases 42 inhabitants of Rudna were executed by shooting. You can multiply the figure by the countless number of villages in Belarus and you will get the objective picture of Stalin's repressions. Marpha Kirbay was not to find out the true fate of the husband and the brothers as she died in February 1950 in a state of blissful ignorance. The inquiries Alexandra sent to different instances at her mother's request were responded in the same manner, 'Your husband died a heath of hero in 1942. His burial place is unknown.' In the last years of her life the old woman shifted all her life to her grandson who was named after her grandfather and who reminded of him very much. She constantly indulged the boy treating him with candy cushions bought at the local shop, lumps of sugar or handfuls of nuts. She frequently asked the boy to plant a fir tree at her grave after her death so that a nightingale would fly at night and sing its songs there. It was only after the personality cult of Stalin was condemned that the executed inhabitants of Rudna, along with other victims of the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs, were rehabilitated. Trying to make amends to widows and children of the 'enemies of the people' at least for appearances sake, the authorities paid little compensations to them. This was the money Alexander Rudnev's parents talked secretly about. They distributed the money equally among all brothers and sisters trying not to treat anyone badly. At the time even this miserable pittance seemed riches to collective farmers who were paid almost nothing for their work. Yet, the evil the state tried to cover up by the scanty sum turned out to be stronger. It seemed to Alexandra's brother who liked to hit the bottle that they didn't allow him to have his fair share. He would get a load on and make for the house of the Rudnevs crying loudly, 'Alexandra, give back the father's money. I am his heir by law.' When he moved to the father's house Sasha took the photo of his grandfather and hung it in the place where everyone could see it. It still hangs there near the icon. One can see a stately officer of the tsarist army with jet-black hair and Jesus Christ side by side. The eyes of both display an inexpressible anguish. Atheist Alexander Kirbay atoned for his lack of faith in God by his suffering and tragic death. In time of hesitation and bitter thoughts some irresistible force attracts Alexander Rudnev to the father's house that has sunk to one side with age. He crosses himself at the homemade iconostasis and feels a burst of energy. His physical pain disappears and he feels warm and bright. It seems that his grandfather who was not to see his grandson shares with him his unspent force from some mysterious remote place.


***

The man who grassed on Alexander Kirbay and who might have ratted on other fellow villagers went on living in Rudna as if nothing had happened. Along with other collective farmers he went to work, was paid some money for his workdays, talked, laughed, spent holidays, went to church on Sundays, in a word, he behaved just like everyone else did. Yet, the rest of the people were honest while Philip Bondar was a criminal. Why wasn't he arrested and sent to prison then after the people whose lives he had ruined were rehabilitated? Why does he go on living even without repenting his deeds? The questions of the kind didn't give Sasha Rudnev a moment's peace. Once he tried to talk on the subject with the mother and suggested making a statement to the militia. His mother got frightened and waved her hands saying, 'Please, for God's sake, don't dare think about it! Your grandfather wouldn't approve of the deed of the kind. It's not the rule in our family to take vengeance. Besides, it's not part of the Christian way of life. Only God has the right to punish and grant pardon. ' -What for do we have the militia and the court, then? -They punish people for minor deeds. There is no punishment of equal value on Earth for what the man did. -Why won't God punish him, then? So many years have passed. -The ways of the Lord are inscrutable. It's none of our business to judge. The twelve-year-old teenager couldn't agree with this way of thinking as it fundamentally ran counter to his ideas of justice. It seemed to him that his mother was merely afraid of turning to the militia. Thus, the boy made up his mind to act on his own. He decided not to let his brother Kolya into the plan lest he should let the cat out of the bag. Without his parents' knowledge he wrote a letter where he expounded everything he knew about the tragedy of his family. He wasn't sure his deed would be properly understood so he didn't state his surname. He seized the moment when there was nobody near the postbox and dropped a letter with the address neatly written on the envelope 'Zhitkovichy. For the attention of the head of militia.' Several days passed. Sasha reckoned his letter must have been studied and proper measures must have been taken. He attributed sluggishness of the militia to the fact they must be waiting for reinforcement from Gomel. Bondar wasn't a hooligan, a rowdy or drunkard that were abundant in the village and that were dealt with easily by the district militia officer. The matter was much more serious. Bondar must have prepared for the visit of the militia men and may be hiding a gun somewhere in the attic. His arrest should be carefully prepared. The boy spent all of his free time close to the house of his victim to be. He either passed by the house of Bondar as if by chance or made an ambush in the shrubs opposite the house. This behavior couldn't but arrest attention. As a result, one day Bondar seized him by the scruff of the neck and dragged to his yard. -Why do you keep poking about my house? You must wish to rob me. Have you fallen into the habit of stealing fruit from my orchard? It must have been you who stole pears from my pear-tree the other day. -I don't need any pears from your pear-tree! -What do you need, then? You either tell the truth now or I will take you to the father. I know he beats you severely. Sasha imagined very vividly Bondar dragging him home by the collar for everyone in the village to see, his father taking his belt to punish him, and he shivered. -Now you've got frightened, rascal! Bondar was very happy. -All right, this time I forgive you, but if you happen to catch my eye once again, you will have only yourself to blame! Bondar was never arrested, while the reaction of Sasha's father followed very soon. One day he came back from work and called his son up to him. -Well, hen, young avenger, has your special operation failed? The boy stood with his eyes dropped. -Do you hear, mother? Our son decided to revenge for his grandfather, so he dashed off a statement to the militia. Alexandra was so much taken aback that she dropped the buckets she was carrying to bring some water. -Sasha, I asked you not to do this! -Oh, you must be in collusion! He looked strictly at the wife and then at his son. They both stood stock-still waiting for severe punishment. Their frightened faces mollified Nikolai Rudnev's anger. He took his son by the hand, sat him onto his knees and tousled his hair. -Do you think I don't want to punish the rascal? I really do, but I don't have any right for this as I am a communist. Besides… The point is that Bondar merely grassed on. It was other people who killed. They killed by the order of … Saying the last phrase Nikolai Rudnev choked over the word he pronounced by accident and fell silent. When a grown-up, Alexander recollected the talk and realized what his father wanted to say but never dared to. He was already beginning to see clearly the true role of Stalin, although at first he was up in arms about the unmasking speech of Khrushchev at XX Congress of the Party. He considered the speech a bad political mistake and expected a lot of trouble to follow. For the rest of his natural life he remained a staunch Bolshevik and atheist who believed firmly the ideas of socialism. He flatly stopped any attempts of his wife to hang an icon in the corner. His firm beliefs reminded very much of Alexander Kirbay. After he became chairman of the kolkhoz 'Soivetskaya Byelorussia' he even inherited his ways of management. He was as omnipresent and exacting and he never gave anybody an easy time. There happened to be times when there was not a thing in their house. Alexandra saw that the children suffered from hunger and asked her husband, 'Kolya, will you bring at least a handful of grain from the barn? It won't make the kolkhoz come to ruin, while I could mill the grain and bake some cakes for the kids!' Nikolai Rudnev reacted to his wife's requests by swearing. He would slam the door and leave the house so that his wife remained one on one with family troubles. Sasha did his best to substitute for the father. He worked as a herds boy and chopped wood. The chairman ordered to supply collective farmers for fuel that wasn't fit for building materials. The logs were big, with many knots so it took a lot of effort to chop them even to a grown-up. The axe would often get stuck in resiniferous wood. The boy busied himself with every log for a long time until he finally chopped it into billets and splinter that was used for kindling and lighting when they ran out of kerosene. It was evident the forces were unequal because in half an hour the boy's eyes were covered with sweat and his hands got feeble. Alexandra pitied the son, 'You'd better have a rest!' Nevertheless, Sasha took up the axe over and over again. It seemed to him it wasn't a fir stub he was going to chop but the grinning Bondar, so he would go for his sworn enemy so violently that chips flew both ways. -Take that, and that, fascist spawn! Here! Take this! Sasha Rudnev considered chopping wood to be a heavy obligation that he performed with a sense of duty although without ant joy. The thing he really enjoyed was to earth up potatoes. The teenager used a wooden plough with a sharp metal head very confidently, just like grown-ups did. The furrows were very straight as if he used a ruler. The horses Mukha and Malvina followed the boy's orders implicitly as if they spotted him for a master. The widows who lived nearby often asked Alexandra for help. -Let your Sasha help me earth up potatoes. He is very good at it. -I have nothing against it. I can't do without him myself. He may help if he has done his lessons. As a rule, Sasha willingly responded to the requests of the kind. It was not for the sake of earnings as these lonely women never in their lives had any money as their workdays in the kolkhoz were paid in kind. The reason was he knew how difficult it was without a male in the household. The widows, in their turn, always gave him something for his work. This could be a piece of lard, a jar of milk or a hunk of bread. They always rejoiced at the food at home as they frequently lacked bread. At the same time, potatoes were abundant. Potato is a very important crop in Belarus. No wonder the Byelorussians are often referred to as 'potato eaters.' Toasted mealy potato is still one of the main dishes in the village both on weekdays and on high days and holidays. Among the great many potato dishes their mother was so good at cooking the children preferred a simple one which was draniki. Alexandra was aware of her sons' liking so she fried them almost every day. She didn't go to bed after sending the cow to grass. Instead, she kindled the Russian stove. When the billets the stove was filled with burnt down so that brick walls turned almost red-hot she placed cast-iron kettles and pots with an oven fork. After she had coped with urgent matters she peeled potatoes, grated them, strained the liquid off, added an egg and one or two spoons of flour to the thick light-yellow dough, otherwise the dough would not rise and waited for the children to wake up. Draniki should be eaten piping hot, or they turn hard and tasteless. The smells in the kitchen worked better than an alarm-clock. The boys jumped off their beds and got onto the stove bench just as they were in their briefs and undershirts even without washing themselves. It was very warm and cozy on the stove bench even when frost was biting outside. Sasha snatched a steamy dranik out of his mother's hands, threw it from palm to palm to cool off, them tore it into small pieces and got down to the meal. His younger brother followed his example and did the same. They ate draniki with cracklings and suet. Two or three thick draniki were enough to satisfy the boys' hunger right up to the evening so it took the mother a lot of efforts to persuade her sons to have a plate of borsch or cabbage soup at dinner time. -You should eat a hot dish, or you will spoil your stomachs, kids!.. Potato draniki still remain Alexander Rudnev's favorite dish. When his mother was alive he frequently visited her, and she always served up this national delicacy with cracklings. Once, Alexander asked the mother to serve some suet. The mother responded, 'I don't have any. Today they sell at the shop whatever you wish, so nobody wants any suet but if you wish we may slaughter a pig and I will put a piece into the vat for you.' She kept her word. One day she served her son draniki and cold suet. He ate his favorite dish like a dragon but didn't feel the taste he remembered since childhood. Alexander stated with unconcealed disappointment, 'You know, mum, the suet is not as tasty as it used to be.' -It is, son. The thing is that you have become different… Yet, it seems to him that he is just as he used to be! True, he is over sixty and he's got grandchildren of his own. Still, whenever he visits his native places Alexander Rudnev returns to his childhood over and over again… At first sight Rudna seems to be the same as it was half a century ago. The windows of the native house still overlook a mighty oak tree. The tree is said to be over five hundred years old. If only he could question him about what it had seen throughout its extremely long life! The river Naut rolls on just as it used to. Nevertheless, Alexander notices regrettable changes after he walks along the streets of his native village. The village that had over 150 household before the war has become depopulated now. Only lonely old people live out their days here. Some of the houses have been sold off to summer residents; some have been pulled down for wood. The windows of those that have escaped destruction but are abandoned by their owners are boarded up. Lilac is growing wild at deserted yards. In 1930s, owing to Alexander Kirbay's efforts, they built a hospital, an outpatients' department, a village library and reading hall, a bathhouse and several shops in Rudna. Today there is nothing of it left in Rudna. The village has grown dumb and deaf. Loud cocks don't wake it up in the mornings any more. One can't hear a herdsman driving a huge herd of cows, sheep and goats and hastening the housewives who have overslept by his stentorian cry 'Send the cattle to grass!' One can't hear any clear voices of children. Alas, the younger generation of Rudna inhabitants considers the land of their forefathers strange to them. They take their children to Turkey for a rest rather than to their grandfathers and grandmothers. The bus service to Zhitkovichy doesn't function any more. Eighty-year-old people can't walk ten kilometers to the district center. The mobile shop that appears here once a week and delivers the most necessary foodstuffs and consumer goods is the only link to the rest of the world. The river Naut has also changed beyond recognition. It doesn't roll on between its steep banks any more. It chokes with oily dirty substance. In the past no one dared dump litter into the river. Boys could be strapped even for the stones they liked to throw so much into the water. Now people fearlessly discharge refuge of the pig farm into the river. To betray your native land is the worst sin! Yet, there is nobody to make people responsible for this. The authorities have lost their prestige a long time ago and have plunged into dissipation. Very few people have found their way to church, the majority considers going to church to be merely fashion… Alexander suppresses his sad thoughts. His memory is filled with painfully familiar voices again. The pictures of the past revive as if in a black-and-white film… *** After Sasha became a pupil of the fifth form his parents concerns increased. The seven-year school was located in the village of Greben, four kilometers away from Rudna. There was nobody to take the boy to school so the mother had to let him walk on his own although she was quite uneasy about it. The road went through the wood. There were wolf packs rambling in the outskirts. It was rumored one could encounter even German shepherd who had grown wild although where from they could come after so many years when the war was over. Yet, fear takes molehills for mountains, so one believed even the devilry like this. Alexandra crossed herself with a sigh of relief every time her son came back from school. They had especially hard time in winter. They were short of footwear so the rubber boots that were patched all over were sometimes shared by the three of them. Sasha wore them to school in the morning; Kolya wore the boots after midday, while the mother who worked as a livestock breeder at a farm had them on in the evening. Things became even harder after Sasha finished the seventh form. Now he had to go to school in Zhitkovichy. He had to walk the distance of twenty kilometers both ways! There was a school boarding house there where children were supported by the state but Sasha refused flatly to live away from home as he knew his mother was having hard times. He always did his best to help her about the household when he came back from school although he was literally ready to drop. The father had left the kolkhoz by the time and worked as a secretary of the party organization at a fishery so he only came home to spend the night. During the summer holidays Sasha always did some seasonal work because he tried to earn some money to buy clothes and footwear for both himself and his brother. He worked as a water carrier at haymaking time. The land of the farm stretched for many kilometers in the flood plain of the Prypiat so the teams of haymakers were scattered all over the area. Haymakers even spent the night there in specially put up shelters of branches till the haymaking season was over as it was important not to miss early dew. They used a big barrel to carry water that was very difficult to drive. Water spilled at the slope, the horse was afraid of unfamiliar sounds and could bolt. It took the driver who was sitting right on the barrel to control the animal. One of the trips ended almost tragically. There was a team of haymakers beyond a swamped log path. It was impossible to get there by horse so Sasha had to deliver water there in a twenty-liter can. They attached two breast bands to the can to carry it like a rucksack. The teenager literally doubled up as the load was beyond his strength. The poles he walked on caved in and creaked. He had to walk very carefully on them. Once Sasha slipped over a wet pole and fell into the water. If he hadn't had the can behind the back that dragged him down it wouldn't have been very difficult to grip at the pole. The swamp just like a monster that had awakened from hibernation felt the prey and hurried to swallow him. Stinking bubbles rose from the depth gurgling. The boy's body was paralyzed by fear. There was no one to help. The haymakers would never hear him shouting. Even if they would, it would take some time before they understood what had happened. The swamp would do its part before they reach the place. It meant he had to count on himself only. Fortunately, when he went fishing with Vladimir Semenovich Sasha often heard his stories about the war time when soldiers had to work their way through lows. The retentive memory of the boy kept the stories to the smallest detail. He managed to calm down although with difficulty and began to think, 'Well, then First I should try not to move and look around. It's dangerous to take off the can when in water because it will involve abrupt movements. There is no object in front that could be of help. What about behind?' Sasha turned his head back slowly and saw a willow that bent near the water nearby. One of its branches was very close to him. If he made an about-turn he would be able to reach it. Fortunately, the branch hanging over the swamp was thick enough so he gripped it and managed to pull himself to the log path. After he reached the reliable support he took the can off the back and climbed onto the poles. It took him less than five minutes to struggle out of the tenacious arms of the swamp but it seemed to Sasha it had taken ages. He sat on the poles for ten more minutes trying to come to his senses. Then he continued his trip pushing the can in front of him as he didn't risk carrying it behind the back again. He reached the haymakers smeared in scum. They gently chided the boy for coming late, laughed at his looks and none of them wondered what had happened… The next morning Sasha flatly refused to work as a water carrier any more without explaining anything. He asked his father to place him into the brigade that built locks at the fishery. The work was hard. They had to unload cement, to mix concrete and to bring it to builders. The good thing was they promised decent earnings. Things turned out much worse than he imagined. The cement dust scattered all over made it difficult to breathe. It goes without saying they were not given out any gauze masks. Concrete had to be mixed by hand. By the end of the day after carrying barrow with concrete the boy was dead on his feet, his shoulders ached and his arms grew numb. It must have been due to the backbreaking toil that he started to have stomachaches. Nevertheless, the boy didn't confess to his parents and worked till the end of the stipulated term. He imagined he would be able not only to provide both himself and his brother with clothes and footwear but also to buy presents for his parents after he was paid the money. He hoped he might have some money left to buy a bicycle. He even saw in his dreams sometimes his mother throwing a brightly colored shawl onto her shoulders, coming up to the tiny mirror on the wall and smiling happily. He also imagined his father pacing up and down the room in a dashing manner wearing box calf boots. The boy was na?ve and gullible. He didn't realize that children were hired willingly because it was easy to make a profit out of their work. A grown-up is more difficult to deceive. When he sees a catch he may complain while a teenager is unlikely to make a row as he's got not idea of what the job rates are. When Sasha was paid sixteen rubles he almost fainted away. Even according to the most conservative estimates he hoped to be paid five times as much for three months of hard word. The manager of the works saw the boy's state, realized he'd gone too far and panicked a little. After all, the boy was the son of the secretary of the party organization. If he complained to his father he might check the work orders, then the lie will be revealed and he will be in for trouble. -Well, fellow, why losing your heart? Of course the money is not particularly much. Anyway, this is solid cash, unlike in the kolkhoz. You've gained some experience. Next summer I'll give you some work that requires skill so you'll be paid decent money. When Nikolai Rudnev learnt how much his son was paid he realized everything but he didn't set up a clamor. He knew about the unusual modesty of Stalin. He liked to re-read, when occasion offered, a press clipping from 'Pravda' that was carefully kept in the trunk. It gave the inventory of the leader's personal property that was made immediately after his death. The list included single-breasted military jackets with high collar of white, grey and dark-green color, ten trousers and some underwear, five pipes with special gadgets and some tobacco. The list included neither money nor jewels. The father said that Stalin's children went to a common school and didn't enjoy any privileges. The father stressed the fact and spoke in a didactic voice that modesty is the main virtue of a person. He obeyed the rule and expected his sons to do the same. He could have brought the manager of the works to book and even have hired him for undisguised forgery of financial documents if another boy had been in his son's place. As far as his own son was concerned what he tried to do was to console him. -Never mind, Sasha. You've earned enough to buy school uniform. As far as the presents are concerned the mother and I appreciate the very fact you planned to buy them… School uniform wasn't out of place, of course. Yet, the teenager who had already matured felt quite awkward wearing it. The pubertal period began so Sasha admired girls frequently though they didn't quite favor him for some reason despite the fact the boy was really handsome. He was tall, muscular and could defeat any boy of his age. Besides, he was notable for unusual keen-wittedness. When he was a senior pupil he won school championships at chess and draughts. Moreover, he never lost a game. Hi success couldn't remain unnoticed. Nevertheless the girls he liked went out with other boys. It was his excessive shyness that was to blame for this although Sasha himself attributed this injustice to the poverty to his family and thus suffered a lot. To console himself he read over and over again the scene from the story by Nikolai Ostrovsky 'The way steel hardened' that imprinted itself on his soul. His idol was Pavka Korchagin. When Sasha thought of the girl he had admired for many year without any hope of winning her love he frequently repeated the reproof of Pavka Korchagin to his sweetheart who preferred him to a man whose parents were more prosperous. For a moment his anguish died away. Yet when he saw the girl he liked embraced by another boy he was tormented by jealousy. Once they held New Year party at school. The list of entertainments at the party included a game of mail. Those who wished could drop letters and greeting cards into a homemade mail box. When Sasha learnt about this he was very glad as this was the chance to make a declaration of love. He sweated over his declaration for many days before he found appropriate words. When he finally managed to express his feelings he didn't sign the letter as he was afraid of being mocked at. He thought, '.If she loves she'll understand.' In the heart of hearts he hoped to receive a reassuring line from his sweetheart. He anxiously watched the 'postman' who delivered the mail at the party. The postman failed to come up to Sasha while his own letter was delivered. When the girl opened the envelope Sasha's heart sank. He hoped the girl would read the letter and find him in the crowd. Then he would come up to her and say, 'This is my letter.' And he would whisper in her ear, 'I love you!' The girl read his declaration with curiosity. Just as he expected, she ran her eyes over the crowd. Sasha even made a step forward but the girl came up to one of his rivals and asked playfully, 'Have you written this letter?' His answer was, 'I might…' -Don't beat about the bush! I recognized your handwriting! She took the guy by the hand and led him into a more privy place. This was complete failure. Sasha rushed out of school without putting on his coat and hat. He walked a safe distance off the school and started crying bitterly. He was ashamed of his tears that rolled down his cheeks. His face burnt… Never before had he thought about his appearance. He mocked at the girls who could spend hours at the mirror. Now he was attracted to the mirror by some mysterious force. He peered at himself for a long time and came to a deplorable conclusion, 'Why should she love me? I am so tall and skinny. No wonder they nickname me 'Wick'!' Sasha was at the age when height leaves physical maturity behind. He grew as tall as 185 centimeters but weighed a little over sixty kilos. Nevertheless, the unflattering fact didn't discourage him; rather it stirred him up, 'Wait! You will be chasing after me!' He made up his mind to take good care of himself. He heard that muscles could be developed but he didn't know what way this could be done. He remembered that his godfather Uncle Albert lives in Moscow so he wrote him a letter where he asked to give a hint on how to exercise properly. Very soon he was sent a library of learner's guides. Since that day he became a different person. He set up a horizontal bar in the yard. He also dragged from the village smithy two iron pigs, joined them with a jimmy and made a weight. He dug a hole for high jump and long jump and filled it up with fresh sawdust. When he got out of bed in the morning he ran outside instead of running to the stove, which made his brother extremely discontented because the mother was not in a hurry to feed him with pancakes. -Wait for a while, will you? You will have a meal after Sasha does his exercises. It is easy to advise to wait! It usually took more than an hour to wait until Sasha was through with his exercises. Sasha would run round the village, and then he would exercise with parallel bars and lift the homemade weight several times. After that he would pour a bucket of very cold well water over himself. He sniffed and rubbed himself with a towel. It was only then that he joined his brother. In winter the exercises included rubbing his body with snow. Once he even risked diving into an unfrozen patch of water in the river, which bewildered his fellow villagers. Only Ivan Albinovich, who was called 'Albin' for short, who was a strong man, could be so scornful about cold. He was extremely tall, with long muscular arms. He always walked with his collar unfastened and hairy chest covered with hoarfrost, even if it was forty degrees below zero outside. Albin could behave like this because he was a sturdy fellow. He could easily lift a haycock with a pitchfork and throw it onto a haystack. When at a construction site he easily pushed a barrow that three grown-ups couldn't get moving. They gossiped in the village, 'The elder son of Rudnev has some problems with his head. He must have studied too much.' Alexander didn't pay any attention to the village gossip and went on with his exercises. He didn't acquire any body fat and remained as tall and skinny as he was. Nevertheless, he developed his muscles and thus surprised very much Rudna inhabitants who seemed to be used to anything. One of the favorite entertainments in the village was tournaments of fighters held on Sundays. After having some plonk bought at the village shop men gathered at the nearest lawn and measured swords with each other. To tell the truth, they measured swords just for effect. They rather watched the sixty-year-old Albin throwing to the ground everyone who wished. The crowd started giggling when Alexander, who was a little embarrassed, challenged one of grown-up fighters, 'Come on, Sasha! Pin his ears back!' The challenged man began to turn down the offer. -I don't feel like bothering with you, greenhorn! I'll just strike you once and you won't stand up so I'll have to carry you home on my shoulders. The men in the crowd, although they shared the opinion of the one who talked, didn't accept the refusal. -Come on, Stepan! Do not hedge. You should fight if you are challenged. You should teach him a lesson. -Are you afraid, Uncle Stepa? The man couldn't disregard Sasha's remark. -Well the, you have only yourself to blame! I have warned you! He came into the middle of the circle, spread his arms wide and made a step forward to the teenager smiling. He imagined flinging Sasha over his shoulder. Yet, he found himself on the ground before he could bat an eye. First the crowd stood rigid with surprise, and then they burst out laughing. -Stiopa, have you drunk to excess? You seem to be falling from wind! Stepan got red with shame and attacked Sasha resolutely. Again, he found himself on the ground. After the third attempt he left the circle to the hooting of the crowd. -He doesn't fight, he just manages by ruse. Anyone can do this! The unusual debut of Rudnev's son as a fighter raised doubts with other frequenters at the tournaments. There were some more people who wanted to give Sasha an acid test but they also fell easy prey for the teenager who used some simple methods borrowed from learner's guides that were unfamiliar in the village. Nobody in Rudna mocked at his looks since that day. Even women came to watch him swimming in the river in winter. Sasha expected to see among them the girl he liked so much but she was not keen on the show of the kind, unfortunately… Sasha Rudnev had another passion that influenced his character. He took to hunting since he was thirteen. He took his father's single-barreled gun, made small shot, filled cartridges with powder and went to shoot ducks. Sometimes he could bring home up to a dozen of them. They were a great help to his family. Nevertheless, the father didn't approve of his son's passion. -Men in the village express indignation. God forbid you wound somebody by a shot. You won't be prosecuted as you are a young child. I will have to go to prison instead of you. -Dad, I am very careful. -Watch that something bad doesn't happen! He must have had second sight. One day Sasha came back from hunting and saw a dog chasing their hens. Two of the hens were lying on the ground with their throats gnawed through. He shouldered the loaded gun and shot without aiming. He just wanted to scare the dog. The shot turned out to be aimed. The dog whined and ran away from the yard. Half an hour later their distant relative who was swearing called on the Rudnevs. -Was it you, lousy creature, who wounded the dog by the shot? -Yes, but I only wanted to scare it. Several small shots must have hit the dog. -What a rat you are! Several small shots? Let's go and have a look! He grabbed Sasha's elbow and dragged the boy along the village to his yard. The picture Sasha saw there was engraved into his memory for life. The bleeding dog lay helpless on the side. It didn't whine, only her eyes distorted by pain watched the teenager reproachfully. He has never held a gun since the day. He has been expiating his guilt towards quadrupeds all his life. *** The village is a peculiar world with a way of life of its own, with its unwritten laws, customs and traditions. The village is inhabited by peculiar people who remind of city dwellers only outwardly. It should be cherished as the apple of one's eye because the village is the source of Belarusian morality. Nevertheless, the leaders of the state who were carried away by the idea of urbanization were doing their best for many centuries to put the village on a par with the city. They did this contrary to human reason, hence we see the result. The village has lagged behind rather than caught up with the city as far as living standards are concerned. But on the other hand, the village adopted all of the city vices. Alexander Rudnev frequently told the daughter about his childhood. She listened to him charmed by his stories. She was familiar with almost every episode. Nevertheless, when he took some fairy tales to read while putting her to bed the daughter always asked him, 'Dad, you'd better tell about your childhood.' Thus, he returned to his childhood over and over again... The winters in 1950s and 1960s were snowy and frosty. Sometimes village dwellers couldn't get out of the house in the morning because the wind had drifted a lot of snow and buried their door completely. The windows covered with complicated patterns. One had to thaw the glass out for a long time with his breath and palms to look out and size up the situation. Yet, this link to the world outside existed for several minutes only, afterwards the frost restored its status quo and the window was covered with new patterns. In such cases they relied only on those whose houses the snowstorm had failed to reach. Sometimes there was no one to help. The lucky ones who rescued themselves from the snow prison shoveled away their neighbors and worked deep trenches to the doors of their houses… Village morals and manners of the time should be mentioned apart. Present day city dwellers are in most cases unfamiliar with their neighbors. At best they greet each other, but usually they pass by silently. On the contrary, in the village as big as Rudna with over 500 inhabitants they knew every single person, moreover, not only by their names. The life of every village dweller was in full view to the smallest detail which was considered to be quite natural because the village in fact was a commune with its unwritten laws equally binding for all. They never locked the door of the house; they just latched it or propped up with a stick when left the house so that a passer-by knew the host was out. The theft they constantly warn us about in public transport nowadays was a rare occasion. It was not because people lived in utter poverty. The reason was they were afraid of public opinion. If there happened to be a thief in the village he wouldn't bear the unspoken disdain of his village fellows. But on the other hand, people shared the last with each other. A complete stranger could ask to stay overnight and he was never rejected. They even didn't ask him to show his passport. They invited him to sit down to table, went halves with him in their supper while he told them of his own free will who he was and where he headed for. When they met a stranger in the street they always greeted him with a bow. At nighttime they kept fire watch in turn. They walked round the village carrying rattles watching for some insidious smoke appear over somebody's roof. If there happened to be a fire those who had more spacious houses voluntarily gave refuge to the homeless victims of the fire. In summer, when it was time to gather gifts of the wood, those who were first to go to the forest and to make sure that berries were ripe or first mushrooms had already appeared, informed the rest of the village it was high time they went there. They picked berries accurately trying not to trample down berry fields. The villagers cut mushrooms with a knife trying not to damage mushroom spawn. They collected little of birch and maple sap in order not to weaken trees and carefully stopped up cuts to the trees. Poverty unites people while wealth tends to separate them. The village dwellers lacked money so they would go to the local shop and borrow the necessary goods like bread, flour and kerosene. This was an unusual form of commerce. The salesman Volodya sold things on credit implicitly. He studiously wrote everything down into a thick soiled stock book. When an audit was planned he informed all of the debtors and by some miracle they obtained the money necessary to sink the debt. Then things were repeated all over again. They gossiped in the village that the salesman made up some profit on it. Yet, nobody took offence as the man risked and took a lot of unnecessary trouble onto himself so he deserved some reward. The same unanimity and mutual readiness to help could be observed with home-distilled vodka. As soon as snow melted and the soil dried up a little one could see a blue-grey smoke whirling over bushes near Rudna from morning till night. They had only one distiller in the village while every family required this liquid currency as it was impossible to sow and collect the harvest without it. That is why they took the production of home-distilled vodka as further away as possible from strangers' eyes. Every family made home brew of its own. When their turn came they used twenty-liter milk cans to deliver it to the place where raw vodka was produced. This went on until the frost came in. For the winter they hid the distiller in a safe place. If somebody ran out of his stock of home-distilled vodka they knew where a bottle of it could be obtained. It was costly to buy vodka in the village shop while a bottle of turbid raw vodka that was produced for sale, as a rule, cost only tchervonets (ten rubles). The underground distillery in Rudna was general knowledge for the district police officer. He used to call on the place every week riding a horse. Every time he expressed sincere wonder as if he had come across the distiller by chance. He would knit his brows sternly and say, 'What's this? Who has permitted? Take it away immediately!' He would allow and walk slowly to the cans with home brew demonstrating by his looks he was going to do away with the criminal business. The village dwellers understood this was merely pretence and participated in the game willingly. Lamenting women would fall to the feet of the militiaman. -Have mercy on us, comrade! We'll have to harvest potatoes but we have no money to pay for the horse so we have to make home-distilled vodka. Men didn't waste the time and poured a faceted glass of 70-80 per cent alcohol strong fresh home-brewed vodka prepared in advance. The militiaman would feign incorruptibility of authorities and would interrogate the people severely for appearance's sake for some time. -Well… That's true. I am quite aware of your needs. I am a native myself, but I wonder if the stuff is healthy enough. God forbid somebody dies, and then I would have to answer for it. They would say it's my fault as I didn't take sufficient care, was off my guard and committed criminal negligence! -Well, comrade, the stuff is absolutely healthy! It's as pure as water. Kids could be given it when cured for cold. Just taste it yourself. The militiaman would drink a glass of fresh home-brewed vodka at a gulp. He would grunt with pleasure demonstrating he agreed the product was proper quality. He was treated to a hunch of bread with thick pieces of meat. He would have a bit, yet he declined a second glass. -I am not supposed to do that. Men of foresight would give him two or three bottles of home-distilled vodka and some homemade sausage. The inspection was over, as a rule. The militiaman would climb onto his horse and warn at parting, 'This should be the last time I warn you. If I catch you once again I will call you to account.' Then he would head for the place where he supposed some breach of the peace to take place… The command system established by the Soviet state was eating away like rust the original way of village life. One day they introduced taxes for fruit trees. The village that used to be buried in orchards grew bare. The village dwellers were axing apples, pears and plums that had been planted by their parents and could hardly hold back their tears. As compared to their suffering, the anxiety of Chekhov's young ladies concerning cutting down the cherry orchard looked a whim. Of course, romanticism was not alien to the village inhabitants. They could appreciate the beautiful in their own way. Despite this, the orchard was a good help to the household. Access of fruit was fed to cattle and used to make home-distilled vodka. Yet, there was no money to pay the tax so extra fruit trees had to be cut down. Under Khrushchev who announced the forthcoming victory of communism with free distribution of all and sundry they imposed restrictions on the number of cattle in the household. People were allowed to keep only one cow and one pig, thus they were doomed to hunger, in fact. Almost every family realized this and kept two or three piglets secretly. Families with many children also kept a calf. When an inspection was rumored, people ferried the cattle across the river to their relatives or acquaintances or hid it in the forest for a while. Inspectors were sure to know about the tricks but they were common people themselves with their vital problems. As a result, inspection in most cases was nominal and they submitted fake reports to district authorities saying that no breaches of keeping cattle were brought to light. The district authorities, in their turn, piled the reports into folders that no one ever looked into. True, some people happened to have a stormy quarrel with their neighbors and to grass on them, and then the violator was taken strict administrative measures to. A communist could even be read out of the party. A village inhabitant was no more the master of his life and turned into a meek worker who reminded very much of a slave. Just like under feudalism he couldn't leave the village as he had no passport. The things necessary to exist like wood to build a house, a plot to plant potatoes and area for haymaking had to be begged for from the chairperson of the kolkhoz or the village soviet who had to be pleased by a bottle of home-brewed vodka and foodstuffs. The chairmen were very little similar to Alexander Kirbay and Nikolai Rudnev. They realized collective farmers were dependent on them completely so they maximized the dependence for their own selfish ends. The authorities literally pushed people to immoral deeds that frequently bordered on crime… At the height of winter they ran out of hay. The cow didn't eat chopped straw mixed with flour and was growing thin. The mother was beside herself with anxiety when she looked at its hollow sides. -Our provider is going to die! How shall we live then?! Once when the father stayed the night in the district center where he had some urgent business she ventured a desperate step. She woke up her elder son late at night, they took some homespun cloth and accompanied by grandmother Varvara they headed for kolkhoz haystacks. They went in silence and looked round fearfully giving a start at any rustles or bird cries. When dogs started barking they fell onto the snow waiting for somebody to turn up. It was full moon so one could see a mile away the people sneaking along the field. Fortunately, the village was asleep. The team leader who was to keep a close watch on kolkhoz field must have hit the bottle already and be fast asleep. When they reached their destination they started to pull hay out of the stack feverishly throwing it onto the cloth spread out on the snow. The compressed hay was difficult to pull out. They had to take off their mittens. Their hands stiffened with cold wind, the fingers didn't bend and their faces became numb with cold. They had to stop quite often to rub their ears to prevent them from becoming frozen. After they pulled out as much hay as they could carry away they tied their cloths in a knot, threw the heavy load behind their backs and dragged themselves back. If they caught the eye of the team leader or the district militiaman who was also charged with night watch they would be sent to prison. Although after Stalin's death people were no more tried for an ear of rye or wheat taken away from the field without permission those who stole hay that was not abundant in the kolkhoz could be sentenced to lengthy terms in prison. The mother hid the cloth with the hay under the straw safely as they could miss the stolen hay in the morning and search all households. She fed her cow at night only. Sasha looked at the cow gobbling the unexpected treat and the mother tenderly stroking the cow and could hardly hold back tears. His soul was full of contradictory feelings. The teenager was well aware of the fact that he had become an accomplice of theft and thus he was smitten with remorse. At the same time he realized that the step was a forced one. If the cow died of hunger which was a frequent occasion in the village their family would be left without bread and butter… The care of daily bread accompanied village dwellers day and night. In the first postwar years the government tried to keep up people's optimism by announcing a cut in prices for food and consumer goods although the campaign was of nominal nature for village dwellers. Their work days were paid in kind. They managed to sell at the market things grown at plots of land attached to their houses. Yet, the money was not enough even for clothes and footwear. The Rudnevs' close relative who lived in Moscow helped them to provide children with clothes. Every summer she came to the village to store up for the winter mushrooms and berries that were abundant in those parts. She lived there for two or three months. She dried bilberries, mushrooms and herbs, collected nuts and prepared home-brewed vodka from death caps and wormwood. Nikolai Rudnev once tasted the potion she prepared and loathed for a long time afterwards. -It's not a vile thing at all. On the contrary, this is a healing remedy. If you take it regularly no illness will be passed on to you. You'll live to be a hundred! These were the words Seraphima used to admonish him. Nobody knows whether it was due to these tinctures or to the good health she inherited from her parents that she lived over ninety and was never ill. She kept lucid and sober mind to her last days. Seraphima brought castoff clothes she collected from her neighbors as a sign of gratitude for hospitability. When the mother was going over the clothes patched all over she was as happy as present day women of fashion are when they buy things in expensive boutiques. Yet, it was Sasha and Kolya who were looking forward to Seraphima most of all. Among the things she presented her relatives with there was horse meat sausage. Alexander still remembers its smell that cannot be compared to anything. Once, Alexandra was sorting out the things of her Moscow relative who headed for the forest right after she arrived even without having a rest after her trip. She found a big tin with some unfamiliar foodstuff. The red watery substance had the smell that seemed foul to her. Sasha who was an inquisitive type wanted to taste it but the mother grabbed him by the hand. -Do you want to have a food poisoning? Have a smell! It stinks! The smell was really far from pleasant. 'Why did she take it for the trip?' wondered Alexandra. After thinking for a while she threw the content of the tin into a cast-iron pot where she had prepared some feed for pigs. She decided, 'If they eat horse poop they won't get poisoned by this!' To Alexandra's surprise the pigs didn't turn up their noses at the unexpected treat, rather, gobbled it as if they had never eaten anything tastier before. She surprised at this, washed the emptied tin and put it into place. She thought the tin would come in handy. When Seraphima returned from the forest for supper she made up her mind to treat her hospitable relatives to the dainty she firmly believed they had never eaten before. When she opened the tin she was surprised to find it empty. 'Alya, where have you put the red caviar from?' she asked Alexandra anxiously. 'What caviar?' Alexandra was none the less surprised. 'Well, the one from the tin.' Alexandra threw up her hands. -Oh my God. I fed the pigs. Seraphima almost fell off the bench with surprise. -Have you given the caviar to pigs? -If only I had known it was caviar! I smelled it. It stank of something so I threw it out… When Seraphima returned home the whole of Moscow laughed at the feast Alexandra Rudneva made up for her pigs… *** Culture has always been the weakest point of the village. Until the middle of 1950s they didn't even have electricity in Rudna. Once or twice a month, the people were shown a documentary or a feature film. Boys willingly ran over the neighboring villages on behalf of the projectionist and put up homemade bills prominently. If they managed to find out what the film was going to be about they told village dwellers about this displaying the pride of pioneers. They prepared for going to the cinema just as they did for a holiday. Women fed and milked cows and put little children to bed. Men coped with their duties. When dusk fell they changed into clean clothes and headed for the village club together. Some villages didn't have any public centers of culture, and then the film was shown in the biggest house in the village with its owners' agreement. The owners' children looked bright and happy. They climbed onto the stove bench and cast glances at their peers who huddled on the floor with unconcealed satisfaction. The film was shown for two or even three hours instead of the prescribed three hours. The picture consisted of ten or twelve parts kept in separate spools. The film tore quite often and the slide failed. If the projectionist didn't manage to fix it at once all men came outside to his help. They smoked and gave pieces of advice. Most frequently one could hear an unfavorable verdict, 'The spark has sunk into the ground.' It took quite a lot of time before they managed to draw it from there. However, the people didn't grumble. They discussed the part of the film they had already seen and shared their speculations concerning what was going to happen. Sometimes the portable film projector was delayed. Then sad news was passed from village to village, 'No film is going to be shown.' Alexander Rudnev was right hand of the projectionist. He was a bright and happy boy so he learnt all manipulations with the film projector quickly and very soon he showed films on his own. It goes without saying he did this on a voluntary basis. He still remembers to the smallest detail the films he saw in his childhood, e.g. 'Chapayev', 'The deputy of the Baltic', 'A sailor from 'Kometa', 'Carnival night', 'Adventures of Mr. Pitkin', 'Tarzan' and many others, as if he had watched them yesterday. Yet, the film 'The Kazaks from Kuban ' that the projectionist showed many times at the request of the people was the most popular film with Rudna village dwellers. The people's own life bore little resemblance to the happy everyday life of collective farmers in the film. Yet, nobody claimed they show lies in the film. The people were so much pressed down by their gloomy life that they wanted some holiday. As far as they didn't have any in their own life they wanted to observe it at least in the film. It was much later, after his political universities that Alexander Rudnev realized how deceitful the official ideology was. The Soviet power announced concern for people's welfare to be its main goal in words only. One could encounter posters with the words 'In the name of the people, for the benefit of the people' everywhere. Newspapers wrote about it daily, radio and television proclaimed this. In fact, the Soviet power was concerned about a comparatively narrow cast of people that included top bureaucracy and people close to them. It goes without saying the budget provided for social benefits to the population. People were provided with free accommodation, they were given out reduced-fare vouchers to sanatoriums, holiday centers and pioneer camps. Free education and medicine were financed, as well. Nevertheless, as compared to the revenue the state earned from ruthless exploitation of its citizens all this seems to be hardly anything. The statements that only under socialism the authorities take special care of the most underprivileged population groups were not true to fact, too. Developed capitalist states carry out their social schemes on a larger scale while their citizens are given fare payment for their work… When no films were shown they organized dancing that resembled very little present-day discoth?ques. There were no disc jockeys in the village club. The show was run by the local accordion player. They danced mainly quick dances such as waltz, folk love songs and polka. In 1960s tango became popular. The most advanced dancers tried their hand at twist and Charleston. On holidays so many youth packed into the club that dancing turned into a crush, and then the most romantic couples got to the bridge across the river Naut that was at a stone's throw from the club. The sounds of an accordion were supplemented by the splashing of fish in the river. Alexander was good at dancing. He had no match at waltz in the village but he was disappointed in love so he preferred to go fishing at night. He was an expert at it, too. He knew habits of all fish and could choose bait for each of them. He skillfully led the crucian, the carp, the pike or the perch that had swallowed the bait. Every time he brought home several kilos of fish. Fishing until daybreak was a real pleasure to him. Yet, he was fascinated more by talks with Uncle Volodya who was an inveterate fisherman and Sasha's true companion. Vladimir Semenovich was Nikolai Rudnev's peer. When they were eighteen they volunteered for the front together and finished the war in Berlin. Very few of those who were born in 1922 survived in the war. Vladimir Semenovich and Nikolai Rudnev were lucky enough to return home safe though with many marks on their bodies. Once, during a tank attack a fascist 'Tiger' moved over the trench where Semenov was. As a result, Semenov became lop-sided; his head was turned to a side. It was many years later that he gained his usual looks. Semenov didn't have a son of his own so he treated Sasha in a fatherly way, displaying touching care and tenderness. Yet, despite the age difference, their communication looked more like friendship of peers. Their talks were frank and open. They enriched Rudnev much more than the lectures of venerable professors… Sasha knew that Uncle Volodya's father Yephim Semenov grassed on his grandfather Alexander Kirbay so he tried not to touch this delicate subject but one day Semenov mentioned the subject himself. 'Tell me, would you like to learn the truth about your grandfather's death?' he asked one day quite unexpectedly while baiting a worm. Alexander didn't expect the question and was a little confused. Vladimir Semenovich came to his help. -You must do this. I don't know when and how but you must… Fish stopped baiting as if intrigued by the topic of their talk. The floats were swimming lazily along the unruffled surface of the river and started with the ripple that ran along. When the fishing was over and fish soup was cooked in the weather-beaten mess tin Vladimir Semenovich went on with the talk. -A short time before he was arrested my father told me that Philip Bondar had put him up to write information against Alexander Kirbay. He made him drunk and persuaded into signing a letter he had prepared in advance. My father regretted having done this and asked Philip Bondar to recall the letter from the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs. Bondar cried at him and threatened to inform about his flabbiness that may discredit security bodies. He must have done this because my father was arrested soon after their talk. It may well be so that my father who was the informer and your grandfather who was his victim met shortly before their death because they were executed at approximately the same time. -Uncle Volodya, why did they believe every piece of information in the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs? Why didn't they check the facts properly? Didn't Stalin give them instructions? -You must have heard about Stalin's personality cult. Stalin must have been blinded by his limitless power and trusted Beriya too much. -Well, it is rumored that Stalin himself signed execution orders though my father doesn't believe this. He thinks Khrushchev revenges himself upon Stalin for something. -This may be true although the authorities are clever enough not to leave any traces of crimes behind. I am afraid we are never going to find out the truth about what was going on in 1930s. Nevertheless, the files with criminal cases of the enemies of the people continue to be kept in the KGB archives. They may be declassified one day. I won't live that long, of course, but you will have to see and study them… Alexander Kirbay has been carrying the will with him for all of his life. He wrote many letters to the Committee for State Security asking to permit him to get acquainted with circumstances of Alexander Kirbay's death. He was refused every time. Even after he volunteered for KGB service all his inquiries were answered unfavorably. The persistence he displayed when trying to have access to the criminal case of his grandfather finally made angry officials from the pompous building with columns located in Lenin Avenue. Once, he was called to a high-ranking official and literally interrogated. An unfamiliar official offered him to take a seat and looked through his personal records. -Did you volunteer to serve in the Committee for State Security? -Yes, comrade! Alexander was surprised why he responded in a military manner. The reason must have been the tense atmosphere in the room that was not favorable for frank talks. -You are described as politically aware and staunch man. There are several commendations for immaculate service in your personal records. That is why we are surprised at the persistence you display when trying to have access to secret information. Why do you want to study the criminal case of Alexander Kirbay? - He was my grandfather. I want to know how he died. -Your family was given an official extract from the decision of Supreme Court concerning Alexander Kirbay's rehabilitation. The state admitted its guilt and even paid some compensation to his family. I realize that money cannot substitute a person. Still, isn't it enough just to know the truth about the fate of your grandfather? -It's not the whole of the truth. I want to know everything. -What for? Maybe you intend to pass the secret information to the West with the aim to receive a more substantial compensation? Unfortunately, the cases of the kind occur sometimes … The last phrase of the security official and his examining look embarrassed Alexander. He expected anything but accusation of treason. This is what they suspect him of. His hands started to shiver involuntarily. The security officer noticed this. -You… have misunderstood … me… I am a communist myself; my father and grandfather were communists, too. To trait the Motherland means to … trait them. Under no circumstances will I do this! Alexander noticed to his horror that his tone had changed. He came here sure of himself, with a strong intention to prove that to know the truth about the grandfather's fate is the sacred right of his family that no one dares deprive them of. Still, after some minutes he turned into a humble applicant who was justifying himself of the crime he had not committed. In the heart of hearts he was beginning to regret he had ventured everything. -… I understand… If the documents haven't been declassified I may not familiarize myself with them… I just wanted to find out… -Well, Rudnev, what do you strive for - to obtain the documents or merely to find out whether you have the right to do this? -To find out… -Well, that changes the essence of the matter. Indeed, the documents are secret. They still contain some information that may harm the Soviet state when disclosed that is why we may not give them out to private individuals, even to those who serve in the Committee for State Security… The security officer paused meaningfully. He leniently glanced over Alexander who had completely lost his head, stretched his hand out at parting and said didactically, 'Well, young man, you should value the very fact you serve here as not everyone is done the honor like this, and resist any provocations …' When he was reproducing this brief conversation in his memory afterwards Alexander reproached himself for his cowardice. He was beginning to understand why even strong-willed personalities slandered themselves and their friends when they found themselves in KGB basement cells… Vladimir Semenovich never found out the truth about Alexander Kirbay's death and the role his father played in the tragedy. When he died Alexander Rudnev said at his funeral in his parting word, 'I remember your mandate, Uncle Volodya, and I will carry it out.' When he comes to Rudna Alexander always visits the cemetery and puts two red carnations onto the graves of his grandmother, father and Vladimir Semenovich. He has done just a little so far. He only helped erect a monument to Uncle Volodya. He still remembers his promise. There is time left…


***

A parting bell at school. A school-leaving party. A hundred grams of vodka to pluck up courage. A farewell waltz with the favorite teacher… Each of us experienced this once. When he was a senior pupil, Alexander Rudnev imagined the scenes of parting with school more than once and hastened time. Mature life attracted him imperiously, lured by its mystery and anticipation of feelings he had never experienced before. Now when the moment came he didn't experience any joy. He left the noisy company of school-leavers who shared their plans for the future. He entered his former classroom and sat at the school desk. Now it was all over! The sweet-voiced summer would be over and somebody else would sit at his desk and scratch the name of his sweetheart on it. A sweet nagging pain stung his heart. His eyes filled with tears. He forced himself to keep off the unexpected wave of sentimentality that swept over him. Ivan Yukhnevich was waiting for Alexander in the school yard. They became close friends in senior forms, spent their free time together, shared their inmost thoughts about girls and dreamed about the future. The friends were making their way through the forest slowly. They were not fully aware this was the last time they were coming home from school. Some time would pass and they would dream about the long road they walked along so many times and cursed when the weather was foul. They would wish to return back to the past at least for a day. Unfortunately, there are no tickets 'back to childhood'… A nightingale was trilling zealously. The fresh morning wind was cooling the face. Dewdrops were sparkling on their shoes. -So we are going to enter the Kolomna artillery military school? -Yes, that's settled then. The prospects to stay in the kolkhoz didn't entice both of the boys. They liked farm work and were not willing to leave their native village. Nevertheless, they were inspired by their parents since childhood that they should study and go up in the world. When Alexander observed his mother sweating at the stock-raising farm and his father making frequent trips to fields day and night he realized the village was not his cup of tea. The boys went over a number of professions and made up their minds that the career of an officer was most preferable as it implied decent salary, authority and romanticism. They were grown-up but they remained boys in their thoughts. They imagined themselves arrive in Rudna wearing military uniform, shoulder straps and numerous badges on their chests. They thought girls would admire them while boys would follow them enviously with their eyes, so their souls were filled with languor. They found information about Kolomna artillery military school in a reference book for applicants and made up their minds to submit papers there. Vladimir Semenovich was head of the registration board in the village Soviet. He promised to help them complete the formalities in the district military registration and enlistment office. Alexander's parents didn't approve of his plans at first but after thinking for a while they agreed their son deserves a better lot than leading a miserable life in the kolkhoz. The occupation of a military man was considered to be prestige at the time. At the height of summer Vladimir Semenovich called Alexander Rudnev to the village Soviet. -They have called from the district military registration and enlistment office. You and Ivan should go to Zhitkovichy urgently. You will be given a letter of referral to Kolomna artillery military school. This is almost a guarantee that you would enter there. Alexander found Ivan Yukhnevich at one of haymaking areas. -Give up everything. We are going to Zhitkovichy! -Why so? The district military registration and enlistment office is giving us a letter of referral to Kolomna. Uncle Volodya says that we may consider ourselves to be students of the military school with the paper! His friend's reaction baffled Alexander. He saw confusion on his face instead of joy. Ivan picked a blade of grass and was examining it as if he had seen it for the first time. Then he said trying to hide his embarrassment, 'You know… I've changed my mind… Well, I've submitted my papers to Gomel Pedagogical Institute.' -What about our plans? Why didn't you tell me anything? -Sorry… I have been tied up with my affairs. You see it's haymaking time. It was a winder. They dreamed and made plans but now… Alexander didn't was to believe his friend. -You must be joking! -I am not. You see my parents are quite old. Who is going to help them in the future? -But… You have betrayed me!.. Alexander waved his hand in despair as if cutting some invisible thread that tied him to the friend and walked away quickly. Ivan was following him with his eyes biting a blade of grass. The hopes for entering the military school fell to the ground. He hasn't been anywhere as far as Zhitkovichy and he didn't dare go at such a distant spot alone. He looked through the reference book once again and decided in favor of History Department of Grodno Pedagogical Institute… Perhaps it was only when he got on a bus carrying a rucksack with his simple belongings and some food for the first time that Alexander finally realized he was beginning a new life. Joy and sorrow mixed in his soul into some new feeling he had never experienced before. He even didn't understand whether it was the wish to leave as soon as possible or the desire to stay that prevailed in his soul. Alexander still remembers the smallest details of his childhood and all friends in the village who were as naughty and carefree as he was, who were always hungry and who were scared of being strapped by their fathers. They all remain in his memory - Ivan Yukhnevich, Yuzik Kirbay, Alexander Fedorov, Peter Yukhnevich, the brothers Bogdanovics and Kirbays, Sasha Kirbay, Volodya Knigin, Volodya Degelevich, Sasha Matskevich, Kolya Kazak and many others. Alexander recollects his uncles Vladimir Matskevich, Ivan Tishchenko, Polinar Kirbay and undoubtedly Vladimir Semenovich, as well as his dearly loved aunts Ledya and Lida who have gone to the next world and aunt Venera who is still alive.

 

WEARING BOOTS AND A TRENCHCOAT IN YOUTH

Rudnev's fellow villagers Anatoly Bogdanovich and Vladimir Degelevich came to Grodno to enter the institute. All applicants were accommodated in the student hostel in Chapayev Street. The friends communicated with the selection committee and found out that there were more than two applicants for each student place. Yet, entrance terms were unequal. Military men who served their last year and who were given short-term leave to take their exams, as well as applicants who had some work experience had a special contest to participate in. It meant significant increase in the competition among ordinary applicants. A sergeant Alexei Semenyako and a combine operator Vladimir Koulik shared the room with the guys from Rudna. Once, Bogdanovich addressed them saying, 'I expect you to play a dirty trick on us!' Semenyako reassured him, 'Come on, guys. You possess knowledge while we forgot everything a long time ago.' Degelevich summed up sadly, 'Well, but you have work experience.' The three of them passed their exams quite well. Alexander had only two good marks ('fours'), in composition and in German while their new acquaintances were completely at sea even as to the simplest topics and left home with 'threes' in all of their exams. The advantage of several marks seemed to guarantee his entering the institute so Sasha calmed down. He spent the time left before being called to the institute helping his parents about the house and sometimes going to the farm with his mother. He went fishing one or two times and brought home several kilos of carp. After walking round the places familiar since childhood he was even sad, 'Should I really leave for the city? I am not going to see the beauty like this there!' Then he objected to himself by citing Pavka Korchagin, 'A human being may live once only. He should live his life in such a way so that not to agonize when thinking about the years spent aimlessly.' At the end of August he received a registered letter from the institute which seemed suspiciously thick. Indeed, instead of the information about acceptance to the institute the envelope contained his school leaving certificate. They preferred those who were mature enough to the chickens that had just finished school The mother saw her son was upset about being returned his papers so she tried to console him, 'Nothing can be done about this, my dear! We must be out of luck to become a big boss. Still, you shouldn't be upset about it. The father didn't graduate from any university but he is respected by the district authorities.' Vladimir Semenovich didn't even conceal his satisfaction. -The one who didn't serve in the army is not a man worthy of that name. You will work for a year, then serve in the army and any institute whether it is in Grodno or in Minsk will open wide its doors. Stop being depressed and prepare some bait. Let's go fishing. They say the biting is superb. It was Vladimir Semenovich who found Alexander a job. They needed a teacher of physical training and labor at the eight-year school in Greben. The tall and physically strong young men whose sporting success was still remembered and who was also familiar with joiner's turned out to be a real godsend for the district public education authority. The headmaster met him enthusiastically, too. -At last we've got a real physical training teacher! I remember you throwing locals onto the ground!.. Don't be afraid! I am sure you'll make it. There are many physically strong and gifted children at school. When you catch a teenager in the lavatory smoking he takes off like a shot from a gun so that even Olympic champions won't be able to keep up with him. I just don't understand what becomes of them when they appear at the distance. They aren't familiar even with elementary techniques. I rely on you, Rudnev. It's a shame to take the last place at the district sports contest. Alexander got down to any business with enthusiasm. His mother used to say, 'You've inherited this from your grandfather who always rushed to new work.' The talk with the headmaster aroused in him the ambition that had always distinguished him from his peers. Very soon everyone at school took a great interest in sports. The young teacher was not content with conducting lessons only so he set up several sports groups. The pupils hang on every word of the teacher, who told captivating stories about the invincible fighter Ivan Poddubny, the legendary runners such as brothers Znamenskiyes and Vladimir Kuts, as well as the famous goalkeeper Lev Yashin. The pupils from the Greben school puzzled everyone at the district sports contest as they took first and second places time after time. They reckoned tentatively they were going to win in the team event, too. Besides the challenge cup the winners were supposed to be given a decent reward. The headmaster promised, 'If you win the money will be spent on developing physical culture.' The young sportsmen were already estimating what sporting equipment they were going to buy. Of course, these should be balls, skies and a tennis table. They also wanted to buy uniform for their football team but they wondered if the money was going to be enough. When the arbiter announced the results of the sports contest they couldn't believe their ears. The team of the Greben school took only the fourth place! It turned out some results of the team had been cancelled. -Alexander Nikolayevich, why so? We didn't break any rules! It was affair victory! The teenagers who were insulted to the innermost of their hearts looked at their teacher hopefully but he couldn't understand what had happened. How would he know that the money meant for the winner had been distributed during behind-the-scenes get-togethers long before the sports contest? Greben school was not listed among the winners so the results were slightly adjusted. In the heart of the moment Rudnev wrote a protest and brought it to the district public education authority. The inspector responsible for out-of-school activities listened to him sympathetically and promised to sort everything out. -Don't be upset. We'll check everything. If your information is confirmed we'll take adequate measures. -When are you going to consider the appeal? -What appeal? Young man, do you want us to hold the competitions once again? That's impossible. Next year we'll nominate a new, more qualified referee committee. I will personally see to it that there are no more problems with that. Alexander flew into a passion, 'This is forgery, financial fraud! What things do we teach the children?' The inspector rose from his table slowly. The lenient smile on his face gave place to anger. -Young man, you should be more careful with the opinions of the kind! You see you are neither a public prosecutor nor a judge. As far as the teaching process is concerned… We are going to see what things you teach your pupils if they treat grown-ups with such disrespect! Alas, everyday knowledge didn't always agree with the one Alexander acquired at school! He often received bitter evidence that even teachers say one thing and do completely another and that the ideals of kindness and justice are used for effect only. Alexander spent the whole of his first salary which was 77 rubles on the needs of his family. He bought his father and brother cowhide boots. He bought a quilted coat for his mother. The rest of the money was spent to put up a new fence. He gave all his monthly salaries to his parents leaving only two or three rubles as pocket money. He pinned hopes on his holiday pay but the money turned out not to be due to him as he had been dismissed from school a month before the school year was over. He found the headmaster at the plot of land attached to his house. It was a lovely day so the teachers sent the pupils to help the kolkhoz and were in a hurry to harvest their own potato. The headmaster was wearing blue tracksuit trousers tucked into his boots that were dirty with wet soil and a linen shirt worn outside trousers. He saw Alexander and feigned cordiality on his face. -Well, Rudnev, come in. We are short of helpers. He tried to forestall Rudnev's unpleasant question and added, 'You must have come about your holiday pay. You see Ivan Antonovich was going to retire but he didn't have enough workload. You were at the sports contest at the time so I couldn't talk it over with you, then I got bound up in my affairs and forgot completely. You know headmasters always have a lot of things to do. As a result you worked for a month without being paid. Don't be upset. It just happened this way. We'll give you a present before you go to serve in the army to make up for the incident.' Alexander wanted to say something in response but a lump came to his throat and he felt tears were just about to fill his eyes. He didn't want to burst out crying in front of the headmaster so he turned and walked away along the ploughed field… The thoughts of the forthcoming service in the army depressed Alexander. Naturally, he realized that service in the army was an honorable duty. He was proud of his grandfather, his father and Uncle Volodya who had served in the army. However, the failure to enter the artillery military school discouraged him from mastering any military skills. In summer of 1965 Rudnev made another attempt to enter History Department of Grodno Pedagogical Institute. This time he did this alone because his friends lost faith in themselves and preferred to work in the kolkhoz. Again, he fell short of just one mark. He was sent his papers from the institute almost at the same time when he was delivered call-up papers from the district military registration and enlistment office that obliged him to report to the assembly place On November 3 with his personal effects. *** The assembly place of the region's military registration and enlistment office looked like a stirred up beehive. Hundreds of conscripts who had been given a close crop were hanging around the yard. Almost all of them were tipsy. They were drowning nostalgia for civilian life and hit the bottle of home-brewed vodka every now and then taking no notice of the officers passing by. A drunken accordion player played some cheerful music that was followed by a sad tune. Somebody was trying to sing along with it muddling the words and mistiming, 'This is the last time I am having a good time with you, my friends!...' Mothers of conscripts were holding handkerchiefs wet with tears and were trying to bring home to their sons, 'You should try to eat the patties I gave you on the fist day, or they will get stale. I know you like only fresh ones…' -Don't go outside without a scarf, or you will get a chill in your tonsils!.. -Be sure to write every so often. If you happen to have some free time drop a line. The father and I are interested… Men behaved in a more sedate manner. -Serve honestly, son. Remember that your grandfather and father were military men… -Obey the orders of your commanders, they don't mean anything wrong… -Help those who are weaker; this is the first rule in the army… -Be careful when using arms. We had an incident once when I served… The conscripts listened to the admonitions and stories of their parents with half an ear. They were far away from the place in their thoughts. The rumors about where they were going to be sent were different every half an hour. Someone informed after lounging about in the region's military registration and enlistment office, 'We are going to the Far East. I heard the military commissar whisper this to his acquaintances.' The prospect of their dear sons to be so far away from home horrified mothers so their sobs turned into crying. The conscripts, on the contrary, were happy about the long journey. Most of them had never been further that Gomel and were familiar with vast expanses of their country only through books. Now they had the chance to see rapid rivers of Siberia and to walk along taiga! They did their best to console their parents. -Why do you keep worrying? I am not going to the other side of the world. Mail is delivered by planes in a day or two to any place in the Union. I am not going to be a recruit. The three years will pass very quickly. Another conscript brought contrary news. -They say we are going to serve in Byelorussia. There command has ordered not to waste money on long-distance journeys. Everything started all over again. The eyes of the conscripts grew dim. What could they gain by serving in Belarus? They would have nothing to tell about after the service was over! Now the parents tried to reassure them hiding their joy, 'The good point is that you are going to have leave more often. We are going to be less worried' When the mother saw the arguments of the kind didn't work she brought into play the one she seemed to be incontrovertible. -You will see your girlfriend! Don't you know she is going to have hard time while waiting for you for so long? The father who still remembered how he was dying to serve as further away from home as possible started reasoning, 'It's all rumors. Distribution of troops is a military secret. No one will give it away like this. We didn't know to the last where we were going to serve…' Alexander and his two classmates Andrew and Vasily Zhogols were not seen off by anybody. Their parents couldn't leave their households for a day. The three boys didn't have any girlfriends who would swear loyalty to them. They looked at their reckless peers and kept silent. They missed their childhood that was over so suddenly. They were trying to imagine their future and envied a little those conscripts who were embracing and kissing their girlfriends. -Why aren't you enjoying yourselves? An unfamiliar captain wearing a trench coat stopped near them and was curiously examining ridiculously dressed teenagers with linen bags in their hands. -We don't drink. -That's good. A soldier should always have a sober head. Are you sportsmen? Andrei Zhogol pointed at Alexander, 'He is a sportsman while we are just amateurs.' The captain noted down Alexander's surname and shook hands with him. -I am Dombrovsky. I advice you to choose rocket forces as they are the future of the army. Moreover, you will serve not far from home. The short talk predetermined the army fate of Alexander Rudnev and his friends that he vowed not to part with. The 181st Guard's rocket brigade was stationed in Osipovichi, in the southern part of the town. The conscripts walked from the railway station to the unit lines stepping awkwardly onto the road that had got frozen. The officers who escorted the conscripts sometimes spurred them with the words, 'More evenly! Go wider!' The orders sounded like a whip. Alexander looked round the crowding peers and had a bitter thought, 'They lead us as if sheep sent to slaughter!' The thought distressed him even more. They had to be in three-month quarantine before taking the oath of allegiance. Vladimir Semenovich once addressed Alexander with the words of encouragement, 'If you endure the quarantine period you'll be able to endure anything!' He didn't pay any attention to the words of Uncle Volodya at the time but he recollected them later, in the very first hours of his service. The sergeant major Dedunov formed up on the ground the battery he was entrusted with right after the conscripts arrived at the brigade, reviewed the uneven formation and looked everyone up and down scornfully. Alexander who was as tall as a rake attracted his attention. -What's your surname? -Rudnev. -You are not Rudnev. The answer should be 'private Rudnev'. Is it clear? -It is. -The answer should be ''yes, sir!' Stand out! Alexander made two steps forward. -Turn around! What is behind your back! -That's a rucksack, comrade sergeant major. -I see myself it's not a cupboard. What's there in the rucksack? -Food, comrade sergeant major! As if apologizing, he added quietly, 'My mother gave some food for the road.' Each conscript had a linen bag stuffed chock-full with some victuals behind his back. The bags looked like humps. According to those who had already served in the army they knew in the village that food was bad in the army so every mother gave her son a piece of fat meat, a one-liter pot of butter, a head of dried cheese and a dozen of hard-boiled eggs so that her son ate well at least during his first days in the army. For some reason the bags made Dedunov fly into a rage. -Rudnev, I order you after the command 'Fall out!' to collect all bags and clear them of unnecessary things. Throw the grub into the john! -Comrade Sergeant major, this is food. It's a sin to throw it away! -Rudnev, you are not in church. You are in the army. Orders of your commander are not to be discussed. Is it clear? -Yes, it is! Sorry! Yes, sir! -That's it! Fall in! Don't even try to cheat me! I warn you the one who will keep some food in his bedside cupboard will clean the john for a month. Dedunov walked slowly along the formation casting angry looks at each conscript which made them funk and shiver and taught them the elements of army service. -Remember once and forever. Since that moment you are soldiers. A soldier is not a human being. Rather, he is part of a military unit. I don't give a damn about your feelings. Screams and whimpers remained in the past, in your civilian life. I am not your mother to wipe up your noses. From now on you will obey all the commands implicitly. Private Rudnev, repeat what I've said! Alexander made two steps forward once again. -A soldier is not a human being. He is part of a military unit and you don't give a damn about our feelings, comrade sergeant major! The conscripts roared with laughter. The face of the sergeant major was twisted with anger. -Stop laughing! Rudnev, fall in… I will get even with you for the jokes, smart alec! For about fifteen minutes Dedunov hammered into the heads of the conscripts the postulates of army regulations that he formulated in a peculiar manner. He didn't dare order to repeat them for fear of inviting new jokes. After the order 'Fall out!' Alexander loaded himself up with knapsacks and dragged them to the soldiers' toilet. Zhogols and some more conscripts offered to help him. The sight of the food that had been accurately packed by their mothers thrown into the john brought tears to their eyes. 'What an idiocy!' Andrei Zhogol expressed his indignation. 'Our mother had to mop up everything in the house. One could easily live on the food for two weeks… Guys, why don't we hide at least the meat? I don't think he's going to search under mattresses.' 'If you are willing to clean the john you may but I won't as I am already watched by him closely,' Rudnev responded. Platoon commanders treated the recruits almost in the same way the sergeant major did. In 1960s there was no violence against younger conscripts in the army that cripples lives of young soldiers nowadays. However, the service in the army didn't seem a picnic at the time. The food was really bad. There was no trace of the pound of meat that a soldier in the tsarist army was supposed to be given daily. Boiled pearl barley with a little of lard was the most frequent dish. One could also notice some small pieces of tasteless fresh beef in it. With the food allowance of the kind drill on the ground was really exhausting. When leaving the canteen the soldiers tried to take along by stealth a piece of bread, a carrot or an onion to keep their stomach till the next meal The frequent result was duty out of the soldier's turn. Hunger can make one do anything so the soldiers were driven to the fault over and over again. Orderlies had the hardest time of all. They had to stand stock-still at the cupboard for two hours. If they tried to relax a little and move their feet they were ordered duty out of their turn. Most conscripts were not notable for their excellent health so the service turned into real hell for them. It was only his physical fitness that helped Alexander. When he was at school he mastered various exercises with horizontal bars and parallel bars. He fulfilled them with ease thus exciting undisguised envy of those who couldn't even pull themselves up. Exercising with homemade weight turned out to be quite to the point, too. Once senior lieutenant Uvarov who was in charge of the quarantine dropped in at the smoking room where soldiers crowded. -Are you smoking? -yes, we are comrade senior lieutenant. The army regulations don't forbid this. -That's true but the army regulations require that a soldier should be healthy, strong and capable of great endurance. Nicotine doesn't favor these qualities. You'd better exercise with the weight. Uvarov approached a two-pood weight and lifted it dashingly over his head three times. Being pleased with himself he measured the soldiers with a peering look. -Who will take a risk doing the same? The one who lifts it at least one will be given twenty-four-hour leave. -What if I lift you five times, comrade senior lieutenant? Uvarov looked leniently at Rudnev who said this. -Private, you are unlikely to lift it at least once. I know you are quite good at parallel bars but you haven't got the guts to cope with the weight. Still, you may try if you wish. If you lift it five times you'll be given three-day leave. -And what if I lift it more than five times? Uvarov couldn't stand the impudence like this. -Private Rudnev, save your jokes for girls you'll meet during your leave though I think they will pine away before you finally have your leave. The soldiers curiously followed the talk of their commander that was turning into a wrangle. When Alexander walked unsteadily with emotion to the weight everyone stood still anticipating his disgrace. There was no measuring of Rudnev who was as toll as a beanpole against the stately senior lieutenant! What followed looked like a miracle. Alexander grasped the weight and lifted it over his head as if it was a phoney one. One, two, three times!.. The weight went on soaring up upwards over Rudnev's head… Seven, eight, nine… After lifting the weight twelve times, Alexander carefully put it onto the floor. Dead silence fell in the smoking room. Now everybody looked curiously at the commanding officer but he refrained from any comments. Only his raised eyebrows gave away his surprise. -Private Rudnev, call on my office! He pointed at the chair and offered him to sit down. -Indeed, well done. You are going to be a calculator. -Comrade senior lieutenant, we have made up our minds to be topographers. -What do you mean by 'we have made up our minds'? A commanding officer decides in the army while the soldier obeys. So I enter you as a calculator. He added in a more quiet tone, 'A calculator is the brain of the rocket forces. You'll be grateful to me afterwards…' He approached Alexander and squeezed his arm slightly below the shoulder. -The muscles are almost not felt but you lifted it twelve times! -It's all due to exercising, comrade senior lieutenant. Since that day Uvarov took constant care of Rudnev. He exempted him from side work that is abundant in the life of a recruit, left him in the data processing classroom and taught him the intricacies of calculation. -Have a look! This is topography of the area; these are coordinates of battery linkage and coordinates of the aim. This is strength of wind. To calculate flight path properly you should… Alexander unwittingly took a great interest in calculus. All calculations were made by hand or with the help of simplest adding machines. After several months he turned the handle of the adding machine so skillfully as if he had been doing this all his life. He did the complicated work that was usually trusted to soldiers of the second or third year of service… Quarantine period seemed to be extremely long. Hardly had the soldiers of the first year become estranged from lack of restrictions at home when they had to get used to the unusual way of life in the army. They drilled on the ground from morning till night. It was winter but the eyes were clouded with sweat as if one had just left a steam room. They wished they were back in the barracks and lay down for at least five minutes but the sergeant major went on drilling them. Soldiers took no heed of the meaning of the commands any more. They turned into robots that marched, turned and froze as if rooted to the ground. The marching never stopped… The sergeant major cried as if whipping you. The only thing you want to do is to tell him to go to hell but this was extremely dangerous to do even in thoughts. God forbid the secret thoughts could be said aloud one day. Dedunov wouldn't forgive until the service was over… Hunger was the thing that annoyed them most. Though Alexander was quite accustomed to it as he often had to live off the land in his childhood he wanted to gorge all the time. Thinking about food tired them out even more than drilling. After retreat soldiers tortured themselves by memories. 'Well, I'd like to have a chuck of meat and a hunk of rye bread,' some soldier would begin. The others joined eagerly. -I would tuck away a dozen of draniki with cracklings! -Draniki is nothing! Trickled pastries! My mom cooks so tasty trickled pastries with meat inside… -I would put away a plate or two of rich cabbage soup! -Forget it! Draniki, trickled pastries! I would agree to have potatoes in their jackets with an onion and meat… -Ali baba, what would you like to eat? They nicknamed 'Ali baba' a conscript Rzoyev from Azerbaijan. He was only a meter and a half tall and very thin. He didn't understand Russian very well and fulfilled all commands with delay. He was often confused which aroused everybody's mockery. Yet, he didn't become embittered. In the evenings he quietly sang plaintive songs in his native tongue that sounded like prayers. -Ali baba, why do you keep silent? I guess you would spit upon your Koran and pack away a piece of pork now! -Shut up! This was Rudnev. To mention pork to Muslims was improper practice. Soldiers knew perfectly well that although the Azerbajanians were Komsomol members they followed their faith strictly. The officers tried not to take any notice of this. Alexander sympathized with Rzoyev and protected him from mockery. Everyone in the unit knew about Rudnev's strength so Ali baba was as safe as behind a stone wall. He returned Ruydnev his devotion and was ready to indulge his every whim but Alexander tried not to abuse the friendship. -Rudnich, they say you are going to be on duty in the kitchen tomorrow. Alexander didn't take offence of the nickname as every soldier had one. Career soldiers in the unit were called 'horse's collars' and 'trunks'. The chief of staff was called 'bulldog' for his huge mouth. Everyone including senior officers treated this as an inalienable attribute of everyday life in the army. -Do you want to take my place? -What the hell do I need for? Am I a fool? As far as Dedunov likes you so much that you are constantly on duty in the kitchen, will you pinch half a loaf of bread? We are very hungry. When things go on like this we'll stop going to the john very soon. -Yes, we are going to ease ourselves on the go. The rude joke amused everyone in the barracks. Even Rzoyev got at its meaning and laughed softly. -OK, I'll try. Sergeant major Shupik was in charge of the kitchen. The soldiers were rather afraid of this career soldier from Ukraine. He was a stupid and impudent man who imitated Dedunov about everything and demonstrated his power at every occasion. As far as cruelty was concerned he had no match in the unit. He could hit anyone with a fist or his boot for nothing at all. To steal bread when Shupik was on duty was extremely dangerous. Still, when Rudnev imagined the disappointment in the barracks after he returned empty-handed Rudnev made up his mind to take a risk. He snatched a moment when the sergeant major wasn't looking, grabbed a loaf of bread and slipped it into his pea jacket. Shupik who had a practiced eye noticed that Alexander's hands moved nervously and his face turned red so he realized everything at once. -Stinker! You've taken it into your head to steal! The sergeant major seized a huge scoop with a wooden handle over a meter and a half long that was used to stir food in pots and made for Rudnev blocking the way to the door. Rudnev had nowhere to run. The intentions of Shupik were quite clear so Alexander rushed into the embrasure that was used for serving food from the kitchen. If tiny Ali baba had been in his place he would have easily got through the wall opening. Rudnev, who was a meter and eighty five centimeters tall, couldn't fit into the opening and stroke his head against the doorpost with all his might. He fainted and collapsed onto the floor as if shot. A bright red pool appeared around him at once. Shupik called the orderly, and then took the loaf of bread out of the pea jacket of the bleeding soldier as if nothing had happened and threw it onto the floor near Rudnev. This was material evidence. Let everyone know that he had been protecting socialist property. The nurse bandaged his head and he was urgently brought to sick quarters. Even now, after so many years, it makes Alexander's flesh creep when he recollects how they shaved off hair round the wound using a safety razor with a used blade 'Sputnik', poured hydrogen peroxide onto his head which made blood hiss and clot and put in numerous stitches. Alexander spent several days in the sick quarters, then he had to be with his head bandaged about another two weeks. The soldiers knew their friend suffered for a just cause. Nevertheless, he couldn't make a single step without their mockery. The incident ended only with reprimand. He wasn't taught any lesson. He never denied himself the pleasure to deal a soldier who had made a slip a blow on the head with a scoop. His friends advised Rudnev to write a report complaining about cruel treatment but he remembered what Dedunov often said to them. -You may complain anywhere, up to the undertaker's! Soon life came to its normal. After he took the oath of allegiance Alexander began to serve in the 3rd detached rocket Guard's battery. He was chosen for the committee of Komsomol as the person responsible for sports activities. Until June 1966 their unit was stationed in Osipovichi. In spring there were rumors their brigade was to be sent a long way off. This meant he had to forget about leave and a trip home for a long time. Alexander had already got used to the service in the army, he wasn't depressed any more. Still, he felt nostalgia for civilian life and native places. Sometimes the nostalgia died down, and then it flared up again. He often dreamed about his home, the Naut and fishing at daybreak.

 

***

In June their brigade was redeployed to Astrakhan region where instruction practice was held at the famous firing ground Kapustin Yar. Besides the Soviet Army, our Warsaw Pact allies held war games there. They traveled for several days. At one of the halts their train stopped near the train that carried military men from Czechoslovakia. Alexander was staggered by the difference in the attitude to soldiers. The Czechs were wearing fashionable khaki service jackets while the Soviet soldiers had common soldier's bloused with broad belts on. The Czechs were traveling in comfortable carriages and drank beer. Our soldiers were traveling in carriages where floors were covered with straw and they couldn't even think about some drinks. When Alexander served in the GDR he found out that soldiers in other socialist countries had a rather unrestricted life that didn't differ much from civilian life. At weekends just like ordinary employees they came home on leave and were back to their unit only towards Sunday evening. Soldier's food allowance differed worlds apart, too. Neither German nor Czech soldiers suffered from hunger. They were given even black coffee. The service itself differed, too. The climate in the steppe is continental. It's cold at night while during the day the temperature is above forty. Soldiers whose bodies lacked in vitamins found it difficult to get used to these drops. That is why our 'brothers in arms' had a sparing regime. In the morning they limited themselves to some exercises. The Soviet soldiers, on the contrary, had to take part in cross country races. During day exercises one could often hear the command 'Gases!' It meant soldiers had to put on gas masks and chemical protection suits. They literally bathed in sweat wearing the suits. In the unit Rudnev was known to be brave and to have a sharp tongue. This frequently brought about out-of-turn duties. After day exercising of the kind he happened to blab, 'It is clear even to a fool we are never going to need the skills. They drill us as if we were cattle just for a show.' Unfortunately, the senior lieutenant heard the words. -Private, call on my office! Alexander looked at the senior lieutenant and realized the punishment is going to be more serious than an out-of-turn duty at the kitchen. -How do you venture to demoralize soldiers? If it was wartime you would be tried by a military tribunal. I am going to inform the battery commander about your words. In the meanwhile, take a can and bring some water from the barracks. In forty minutes you'll have to report the order has been executed. -Comrade senior lieutenant. I'll have to walk the distance several kilometers long. I won't manage to keep within the time! -Silence! The orders of the commander are not to be discussed! There's no time to be lost! He pressed the button of the stopwatch confirming his words. It was no use arguing. The senior lieutenant couldn't stand the soldiers who had a sharp tongue, he didn't like any argument and when occasion offered he made those soldiers run quick marches although water was delivered to the unit by a lorry. Those who didn't manage to keep within the standard were given several out-of-turn duties at the kitchen. Rudnev seized the can and speeded to the barracks. Ground squirrels that were the aborigines of the steppe and were not afraid to approach people dashed aside. He filled the can with water and looked at the watch. He wouldn't have been able to be back on time even if he had been light. Suddenly… What a stroke of luck! Alexander couldn't believe his eyes. A lorry was driving along the steppe with barrels of water rumbling in its body. Sergeant Krasovsky caught up with Rudnev and slowed down. -Rudnich, what a good runner you are! I've been following you in half an hour. You are covered with sweat all over, poor thing! Shall I treat you to some water? Hey, I see you've got some water of your own. Have you made a slip once again? You won't blab any more! -Bugger off, will you? -Don't be offended, Sasha! I am joking. Get into. I'll give you a lift… A hundred meters before the unit Rudnev got out of the car, waited a little and appeared before the senior lieutenant on the dot pretending he was out of breath. -Comrade senior lieutenant! Your order has been fulfilled! The officer looked at the stopwatch with surprise. He lifted the heavy can. He opened the lid. The can was full. -How did you manage? That's impossible! I'll find out where you filled the can! Rudnev couldn't conceal his triumph. He wanted to tell to the hot-tempered commanding officer he had cut him down. Instead, he assumed a grave air and repeated once again, 'Comrade senior lieutenant! Your order has been fulfilled! May I be free?..' An important general, the former front line soldier came from Moscow to inspect the firing practice. There was nothing unusual about it. Launching a missile differs from firing cannon. It requires careful preparations with even smallest detail not to be missed. Despite its huge size, a missile is very sensitive even to the slightest exposure. It takes only to drop a tiny object onto it and everything will come to nothing. It goes without saying the accuracy of calculations was of special importance. The senior lieutenant Uvarov was shocked when he was informed that the third battery was entrusted with launching a missile. On the one hand this was great honor but on the other hand it was responsibility. The period when the missile is in the air may change your career drastically. If it hits the target you may expect to be given the early next higher rank. If you miss they are not going to degrade you but you are going to stay captain until you retire. When the General arrived at the department of data processing dead silence followed. -Well, sonnies, let's prove we're worth out salt. The General was aware of the state of his subordinates so he did his best to create a free and easy atmosphere. He joked, told stories from his own service in the army. He did this intentionally. The accuracy of calculations depended a lot on the psychological state of the soldiers who made them. -Well then, who'll track our beauty? The General called this the theatre-of war missile that could hit targets at the distance of several hundred kilometers. Indeed, its menacing beauty aroused admiration. The cigar-shaped missile hovered above the ground for several instants during the launch, and then she flew high into the air as if it had torn itself from embrace. It ascended and set the horizontal course leaving a blazing trail behind. The calculators who were senior sergeant Kozlovsky and corporal Boulanovich looked like pupils who hadn't learnt their lessons and hoped that somebody else would be asked. The senior lieutenant Uvarov didn't dare give somebody's name, too. -Well, sonnies, have you lost your heads? During the war there's no time to hesitate. The enemy won't afford you the luxury. The General walked round the tables looking closely at the faces of calculators. He stopped near Rudnev. -Are you serving your first year, sonny? -Yes, sir! -What's your name? -Guardsman private Rudnev, sir! -Well, private, will you show what you've learnt in the army? The title of the guardsman imposes a high responsibility. Make calculations using the following data… -Allow me to start the urgent task! -You may! They made calculations of flight path in two different ways - a graphic and an analytical one. Each of them has its pros and cons. The graphic way was simple. The standard time was five minutes. Mathematical calculations required twice as much time but they gave more accurate results. Rudnev had almost phenomenal memory and quick reaction. He made complicated calculations even quicker than those who made use of the graphic way. -Comrade General, private Rudnev has fulfilled the task. The general looked at the stopwatch and raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise. -It's four minutes and a half. Sonny, haven't you done a bad job by any chance? -No, sir! The general looked at the calculations closely. The task had been properly solved. He gave another data and was watching closely the soldier performing his solemn calculations ritual at his table. This time it took Alexander five minutes to calculate flight path of the missile. -Well done, sonny! The general approached Rudnev and embraced him. -I've never met a calculator like you in my life! Then he said addressing Uvarov, 'Thank you, senior lieutenant, for the training of soldiers!' -I serve my country! The firing practice was a success. The inspectors noted immaculate training and professionalism of the third detached rocket battery. The theater-of war missile hit a tiny target after the very first launch which was not a frequent occasion. When commenting on the results of the firing practice at the evening formation, the general didn't forget to mention the calculators and noted their contribution to the success. He also announced, 'Private Rudnev should be given early ten-day leave, as well as the rank of junior sergeant.' The calculators who served their second and third year looked at Rudnev with undisguised envy; some looked even with outright animosity… That evening Alexander wrote letters home in an elated mood. The prospect of the forthcoming leave portrayed the hardships of the military service in an entirely different light. Even morning crosses seemed to be a harmless walk. He accurately folded in two sheets from a notebook covered with neat handwriting and put two photographs in which he was dressed in military uniform in between. One was meant for his parents, the second for Vladimir Semenovich. *** After firing practice in Kapustin Yar was over the rocket brigade was redeployed to a small provincial town of Yuteborg in the Democratic Republic of Germany. The journey there took several days. Unlike tanks and pieces of ordnance that were covered with ordinary tarpaulin so that one could easily make out their contours missiles were carried covered by awning to rule out any chance of their being de-camouflaged. There stood a sentry on every open goods truck. In Poland their train stopped at a small station. An old rail man who was passing along the goods truck where Rudnev was on the watch made a malicious remark, 'Why are you standing here like a scarecrow? Do you think you are a soldier? You remained cattle. The sling of your submachine gun is made of tarpaulin while a German soldier has got a leather one. He is a true soldier while you are…' Hardly had the Pole finished talking when Rudnev pointed his submachine gun at him. -Move away from the goods truck. I have the order to shoot to kill! The Pole realized the soldier wasn't joking so he made off hastily muttering under his breath. The incident left a bitter feeling of resentment in Rudnev's soul. 'We've liberated them from fascists, now we feed them. They live better than we do and they are nevertheless displeased by something.' He noticed the rail man glancing back and pointed his submachine gun at him once again. He could hardly suppress his laugh when he saw the Pole run away trotting. As they were approaching the border with Germany Alexander was beginning to feel more and more uneasy. He learnt at his History lessons there were hundreds of Soviet military graveyards in Germany. His father shed his blood there. Now Rudnev had to serve there and communicate with the Germans among whom there could be the ones who had tortured and shot Soviet citizens. Yet, they were allies and were building socialism. Nevertheless, they remained Germans. While he was serving in Germany Alexander couldn't get rid of the thoughts that made him feel discomfort… The third rocket division was deployed in the barracks where select fascist units were quartered during the war. Rudnev noticed that in some places the coat of paint was thicker. He decided those who had painted the walls were not very experienced. Later on, the paint started to come off gradually due to rains so that fascist slogans showed through the paint. Their rocket unit belonged to secret elements. They were camouflaged as tank crew members and were stationed not far from a tank battalion by intentional design. Mornings and evenings the tanks filled the neighborhood with roaring thus trying to persuade the locals that the tank battalion ran the show there. However, it was an open secret what unit was deployed in Yuteborg. When our officers came to the town barber's to have their hair cut an old German pointed at their shoulder straps and asked in broken Russian in feigned perplexity, 'Why a tank? You are not members of a tank crew. Gagarin! Good!' It goes without saying that the command of the unit knew their efforts to camouflage were vain but they nevertheless obeyed the order although this made everyone's life more difficult. Soldiers had to spend their leave in the unit. Only officers had the right to go into town. Families of officers had an especially rough time as they had to be isolated from the outside world for many months. Alexander wrote letters home almost every day. He wrote to his parents that he still served not far from home. They were strictly forbidden to inform about the exact position of their unit. He promised to come on leave and asked his parents about news at home. When h received a letter first he ran through it impatiently from top to bottom in the hope to find in his mother's clumsy scribbles at least some words about his sweetheart, then he read the letter more thoughtfully savoring every phrase. The girl he loved never dropped him a line… Thoughts about girls distressed soldiers. They were regularly given injections that were supposed to suppress sexual stimulation but they almost didn't work. Without relying on medics Rudnev found his own way to strangle hormones. He devoted his free time to working out with weights. He used some hardwearing fabric to sew a cap, attached laces to it and suspended dumbbells. To alternate exercises he suspended dumbbells to his feet and exercised with horizontal bar and parallel bars. After an hour of the exercises all sinful thoughts faded away, at least until midnight. In autumn their battery helped the nearest cooperative farm to harvest potatoes. German farmers treated soldiers generously. Goose that must have been their favorite dish was served on a tray with tiny glasses of schnapps. The soldiers looked at their commanding officer and refused but Uvarov didn't pay attention to the liberty. German potatoes weren't similar to those they grew in Byelorussia. They were small and greenish and looked more like some overseas fruit. When they were boiled soft, they turned into substance that smacked of soap and was absolutely tasteless. -Sasha, you come from a peasant family. What lousy breed is this? -I don't think the problem is about the breed. -What's the problem, then? -There was a concentration camp nearby. Fascists fertilized fields by the ash from gas furnaces. The soldiers found this loathsome but they still went on eating as they had to have something to fill their stomachs with. When they were having a short break one day a team leader drove up to the soldiers on his bike. He walked over the parcel where they had already collected potatoes, dug up with his foot in some places, didn't find a tuber in the soil and approved of their work. The soldiers crowded round the refined bright red 'Yava'. They had never seen a bike like this before. The team leader noticed their curiosity and offered, 'You may start up and have a drive. I allow you to.' The soldiers looked at the German with distrust. Then some of them tried to start the bike but they failed. The German laughed quietly. Then Sasha approached the bike. It was the first time he had seen a 'Yava', too, but he had ridden a 'Minsk' before. The engine started as if it had felt Sasha was an expert. The German raised his eyebrows with surprise. Alexander rode a couple of times round the field and returned the bike to its owner. At the end of the day, when the work was over, the German came up to the senior lieutenant and asked him to allow to treat the soldier he liked so much to home supper. This was a serious violation of army regulations but Uvarov didn't doubt Rudnev's political maturity and agreed after thinking for a while. Still, he screwed up his eyes cunningly and hinted, 'Take care and be worthy of the name of a Soviet tank screw member!' -I will, comrade senior lieutenant! According to German custom, the supper was not very substantial. They served beer, thin pieces of ham with white bread, chocolate and coffee. They communicated without any special problems. The host knew Russian quite well. Alexander remembered his school lessons and put in German words into the talk. The team leader knew that politics was forbidden ground with Russian soldiers so he tried not to touch upon it. He only dropped a phrase as if by chance that the Berlin Wall erected five years before divided into two not only the states but also German families. After the words he took off his hand a posh golden watch and threw it into his glass of beer. He waited a moment, brought his glass to Alexander, showed that the hands were still going and said, 'West Germany!' Rudnev went hot and cold all over. Without a moment's hesitation, mechanically, he took off his old 'Mayak' his father had presented him before the service in the army, threw it into his glass of beer and demonstrated the watch still went. -The Soviet Union! The host didn't expect such a quick reaction. He shook Sasha's hand. -Good! You are a true soldier. When Alexander returned to the unit he noticed the watch had stopped. Moisture must have penetrated through a crack in the watch dial. Nevertheless, the 'Mayak' stood the political test properly… Even these incidental meetings with the local populations were enough for Soviet soldiers to be convinced the Germans lived a wealthier life that the Soviet people. The fact puzzled Rudnev and invited sad thoughts. Alexander read quite often that socialist states receive decent economic aid from the USSR. Both in Poland, when their unit was redeployed and in Germany he came across slogans saying 'To learn from the Soviet Union means to learn to win!' 'Why do they live better than we do, then?' he pondered over the question quite often but failed to find any answer. An encounter with his fellow countrymen who preferred not to return to their home land after the war staggered him even more. This happened during a march. A column of military lorries was in a 500-kilometer march. The soldiers from their unit acted as traffic controllers. It fell to Rudnev to be at the crossroads near some unobtrusive grey building. Most of the lorries had already passed by, so he was fooling about. -Ivan, come here. When he heard a woman's voice Alexander didn't understand immediately that the woman addressed him. -Ivan, are you deaf? It was only then that he noticed a girl who leant out of the window of the building and was waving friendly at him. She spoke Russian with some odd accent. -Come here, I'll treat you to some beer. The building turned out to be a brewery. Alexander knew that unlike in the USSR where there were only a few brands of beer for the whole of the country they brewed it in Germany in their own way carefully preserving age-old formulation. German beer was much better than Soviet one but Alexander didn't have any special liking for it. The girl went on calling him persistently. Although he was not to talk when on duty he said, 'I am not allowed to.' The stranger nodded her head knowingly and disappeared. Rudnev who had missed communication with fair sex was even sorry the talk was so short. Moreover, the girl seemed to be Russian. That is why he was so glad he saw her approaching him. -Ivan, have a drink of beer! It's very hot today… The girl placed several small bottles of beer 330 grams each at his feet. -I am not Ivan, I am Alexander. I am not supposed to drink beer when on duty. -Alexander?.. Still you are Ivan… A Russian… Have a drink! No one is going to find out. He didn't specify his nationality. Moreover, his father was Russian. -How did you find yourself here? The girl told her father was taken prisoner and her mother was brought to Germany by fascists. When the war was over they met in this town and made up their minds not to return home because they feared to be sent to prison. She was born there and had never been to the USSR though she considered herself Russian and would like to visit her parents' Motherland. A military lorry came in sight at a distance. The girl noticed Alexander got nervous and kissed him in the cheek which made him blush with embarrassment. -Drink the beer, Ivan! I'll bring some more. Alexander waved his signal flag pointing the lorry driver hi direction, followed it with his eyes and took a bottle of beer. Trying to resist the temptation he twirled it and looked around. He was really thirsty, so he tore off the cork with his teeth and made several drinks. The beer was cold and flavored. He unwittingly drank several bottles and was soon very sorry about it. The beer worked as diuretic. He couldn't desert his post because a column of lorries could appear any moment. Besides, there weren't any bushes nearby where he could hide to relieve himself. He reckoned the march was nearly over so traffic controllers were just about to be withdrawn. However, his bladder didn't want to wait any longer. Alexander couldn't endure any more so he rushed to the nearest house and relieved himself looking around like a thief. About thirty minutes later a GAZ car covered with tarpaulin arrived. Senior lieutenant Uvarov opened the door. -Private, you may leave your post! Alexander looked back. The stranger was waving her hand friendly. -See you, Ivan! Uvarov noticed this and smiled. -I see, Rudnev, you've had time to have an affair. -No, comrade senior lieutenant, it's just a … pure accident.-Well, well, take care! After pure accidents children may be given birth to. The traffic controllers in the car laughed quietly with content. *** Alexander was looking forward to the leave granted by the general. After the bustle to do with redeployment to Germany was over the battery commander captain Kvashenov called him. -Rudnev, try to understand me, will you? I don't doubt the decision of the general. Still, I advise you to wait a little with your leave. Most of your service is still ahead. The journey home will only torment your soul. Besides, what are the soldiers who serve their third year going tot think about it? Most of them haven't had any leave. Alexander agreed with the arguments, although unwillingly. Nevertheless, some months later he reminded the captain about the gift granted by the general. Kvashewnov balked a little, and then granted him the leave. After they celebrated the new 1967 year, right before Christmas Alexander set out home. The journey was long, and he imagined many times meeting his parents, walking in the uniform along the village with all envious eyes fixed on him and girls following him with their eyes. In the evening he would go dancing. And who knows… At this point his thoughts came abruptly to an end. His imagination refused flatly to depict the scene of meeting his sweetheart… When Alexander arrived in Zhitkovichy, he decided to walk the painfully familiar distance. It was early morning so he couldn't expect any passing car. It was over twenty degrees below zero. Snow was crunching under his boots. His cowhide boots shone despite the frost. No professional shoemaker could achieve the same result. Enterprising soldiers applied a thick layer of shoe polish onto the top of their boots and ironed it. Blacking nearly ate into leather. It was enough to wipe dust off the boots with a piece of cloth and they shone again. When Alexander was passing familiar places he recollected school years. It was only a short time before that he and Ivan Yukhnevich walked here with kersey bags behind their backs having a harsh word to say about their teachers who had overloaded them with homework. This seemed to have been a long time ago! He wished he could sit at the school desk once again!.. Soon the Naut heaved in sight. The locked river was waiting patiently for spring to come. Some more distance to walk and there was his parents' home at the turn of the street. Alexander's heart began to palpitate. Despite the dusk he noticed from a distance his mother with an armful of wood. She heard boots creaking, gave a frightened scream, the wood fell off her hands and she hurriedly returned to the house. Nikolai Rudnev had already woken up and looked at his wife with alarm. -What's the matter? -Shura… Over there… He's come on leave. -Where? Have you seen him? -I haven't but I feel it's him. Several minutes later Alexander entered the house. His mother rushed to his embrace and burst out crying. -Mum, will you stop crying? You see I am safe and sound. He stroked her hair tenderly and noticed it had grown greyer. The father examined his son from head to foot and was pleased to see he had matured. When his turn came he embraced the son tight. -Are you still a private? Haven't you risen to the rank of General? -I haven't risen to the rank of General but I have been promoted to the rank of junior sergeant by order of a general. 'Oho! This is a rare occasion for the one who serves the first year,' the father noticed with competence. 'How have you distinguished yourself?' The talk made them forget about breakfast. The mother threw up her hands and bustled around the kitchen. -Oh my God! What a fool I am! You must have had nothing to eat for more than a day. Why do I stand here with my mouth open? The leave flew by in an instant. During the first days Alexander jumped out of bed at seven o'clock as if by order. The biological watch worked better than an alarm clock. Then he remembered he was at home so he luxuriated in bed as if he wanted to have his sleep out until the service was over. Vladimir Semenovich heard about his arrival and called on them in the evening. He looked at the stately figure of his young friend with admiration. His eyes were radiant with genuine fatherly love. However hard Alexander balked at first saying he didn't have time to communicate with everyone he nevertheless dragged him out to winter fishing. When Alexander was pulling perches from a hole he was extremely delighted. It was very hard to part. There was no hope for a new leave. That meant he wasn't going to see his native place for about two years. Everything seemed to have been already discussed. Nevertheless, he couldn't dismiss the thought he had failed to ask about something and say an important thing to somebody. The captain turned out to be right. It was more difficult to leave the parents for the second time. Alexander asked his parents not to see him off in order not to aggravate the parting. He walked to Zhitkovichi with his younger brother only…

 

***


Rudnev was promoted to the rank of junior sergeant before the Day of the Soviet Army during the second year of his service. The rank gave him serious disadvantages by army standards. The allowance of a private was fifteen marks while a junior sergeant was given an allowance of thirty marks. The money was nothing special. Nevertheless, they enabled one to buy some food in the shop on the territory of their unit. Alexander usually bought a long loaf, a can of man-made honey and a bottle of milk.
Soon after he had been promoted he was ordered to come to the battery commander. There was Rudnev's personal record on the table before the commander.
-Rudnev, I see that your grandfather and father were communists.
-Yes, comrade captain!
-have you ever thought about joining the party?
-Never, comrade captain!
-Why so?
Rudnev became confused. Frankly speaking, the thought had never occurred to him. It was quite clear why his grandfather and father were Communists. They both fought at the front line. He hadn't done anything in his life that would enable him to enjoy the high title equally with them.
The battery commander apprehended Rudnev's confusion in his own way.
-Now look here, junior sergeant… It is a great honor to be a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The honor is done to the very best. There are quite many old-timers in the unit who try to push their way to the party by right and wrong. These careerists should not be party members. You have shown yourself to good advantage. You are high achiever in battle and political training. You are also deputy secretary of the battery Komsomol organization. Think over my offer carefully. The senior lieutenant Uvarov and I are ready to provide you with our recommendation. I am sure the Komsomol committee will support us, too.
A month later the battery commander asked his question once again. He heard the answer he had expected.
-Thank you for the trust, comrade battery commander! I will do my best to keep the high title of the CPSU member.
I didn't doubt you, junior sergeant. Remember a Communist soldier enjoys only one privilege, i.e. to be the first to march into the battle.
-I serve my Motherland!..
The fact he was accepted a probation member of the CPSU had a noticeable impact on Alexander's behavior. He started to have a stricter attitude to his actions as if someone invisible watched his every step. Before lights-out, secretly from his friends who noticed the change he took the probationary member's card from the pocket of his soldier's blouse and studied it in the dim moonlight that struggled through the windows of the barracks. This just seemed to be a piece of an ordinary cardboard and several pieces of paper. Nevertheless, it possessed some magic force that made his heart palpitate. Alexander experienced something of the kind in front of an icon at home. He was brought up in the atmosphere of militant atheism and never went to church but when he looked into the eyes of Jesus he had an overwhelming desire to cross himself and to fall onto his knees. Now he experienced the same. Involvement in the party seemed to be similar to the faith in God so he carefully kept the feeling in his soul. His commanding officers always made him make speeches. He never had to search for words in everyday life and could spend hours telling entertaining episodes from the history of different countries while in public he was confused for some reason. Necessary words seemed to get stuck in his throat and when he made efforts to force them out he sounded primitive and insincere. He never learnt to make speeches and thus displeased political workers.
'Rudnev, you are a communist and the leader of youth. A leader should be able to carry away by his words and to lead,' taught him the secretary of the Komsomol committee of the battery senior lieutenant Tyushlyayev.
Alexander got irritated, 'Comrade senior lieutenant, don't make a sexton out of me. I am already considered to be a careerist. Are there any complaints as far as my service is concerned?'
-There aren't any. You learnt to work the computer very quickly.
The computer was placed on ZIL chassis and was created for military purposes. When it was delivered, the command was shocked. The new technology of data processing required re-training calculators. The calculators were afraid of the bulky strange and dashed aside like the devil from holy water doing their best by right or wrong to use more familiar methods. Rudnev who had an excellent memory managed to know the computer and helped his parents as much as he could. As a result his authority among the soldiers increased even more. After Alexander saved the battery from inevitable showdown once, he became quite untouchable and rid himself of duties in the kitchen till the service was over.
An inspection came out of the blue. It was carried out by a colonel from Moscow who was rumored not to forgive even slightest shortcomings. He could make a mountain out of a mole hill so that the command didn't know what to do about it afterwards. It was too late to improve the situation. Fortunately, Rudnev caught the eyes of the colonel who was walking into the battery with a ferocious look. When the inspector saw the junior sergeant who had among other service decorations a badge of Kiev 'Dinamo' on his chest he literally flew into a rage.
-What's your surname?
-Junior sergeant Rudnev, comrade colonel.
-What is the piece of tin you are wearing on your chest?
-That's a present from the team of Kiev 'Dinamo', comrade colonel.
-A present? How did you distinguish yourself that the USSR champion gave you a present?
-I didn't do anything special, comrade colonel. I just played in reserves.
-In reserves?
-Yes, sir! I didn't have time move up to the first team. Conscription prevented me. However, when the service is over I will restore my shape and play as outside rights.
The colonel was keen on football. Whenever a football match was broadcast on TV he even left important meetings under different pretexts. Now he was talking to the player of Kiev 'Dinamo'! Rudnev didn't realize himself how the words escaped his lips but it was now too late to cut back so he went on bluffing. It was only the fact that Alexander was a walking football encyclopedia that saved him. He knew names of all championship players, as well as their physicality, sports achievements, strong and weak points. The fascinated colonel broke all army regulations, took Rudnev by the arm and drew him aside. He showered him with questions about his favorite team. Rudnev answered without a flub. Then the talk switched over to fishing. They both turned out to be inveterate fishermen.
-Sergeant, will you be able to make fishing net for me?
-I will, comrade colonel!
That was going too far! He had never made any nets. He hadn't even seen the way it was done. Yet, Khlestakov's syndrome kept on pushing Alexander for big trouble. However, there was a lot of time before he was exposed. It would take the colonel some time to obtain the necessary stuff, then it would take some more time to make a net, at least he would say it was made, so he could manage to think up something. The most important thing was he managed to lull the vigilance of the inspector. The colonel lulled by the talk with the dashing sergeant inspected the battery without the captiousness that was so typical of him. The inspection results were favorable. When it was over the senior lieutenant Uvarov couldn't conceal his surprise.
-I considered you to be a resourceful soldier but I should never have thought you would be able to take the colonel in! You can pull a man's leg but I wonder whether you'll be able to make a net?
-I won't, comrade senior lieutenant. I have never made a net in my life. Save me!
-OK, we'll think something up.
Uvarov didn't deceive him. He found a soldier in the unit who made a net that was a lovely sight. The colonel was very pleased. He promised not to miss a single match of Kiev 'Dinamo' with Alexander's participation…
In 1967 relations with China became extremely strained. Ceaseless provocations of the Chinese on the border threatened to grow into large-scale hostility. There were sinister rumors in the unit the Chinese threatened to begin hostilities on the eve of 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. A state of emergency was declared in the 181st rocket brigade. Soldiers' knapsacks with the necessaries where placed at their beds in case of alert. The pyramid with submachine guns was placed nearby. A real hysteria set in the unit. Political workers gave daily talks reminding soldiers of love to their Motherland and the need to be ready to protect its borders. These admonitions could have sounded quite natural in time of war. The father used to tell that feature stories by Constantine Semenov and Alexei Tolstoy boosted soldiers' morale and the song 'In the dugout' warmed their souls. Yet, that was the time of war against fascists. Now the country that had quite recently been our ally turned out to be an enemy. During political briefings at school they were frequently read newspaper articles which asserted the USSR and China are brotherly countries forever. Alexander understood the failure to obey the order of the commander was equal to betrayal but he still couldn't imagine shooting people he didn't hate at all. Fortunately, things turned out all right.

 

***


According to unwritten army laws soldiers who served their third year started to count out the time left before the service was over. Every evening before lights out a soldier who was serving his first year jumped onto a stool and announced, 'There are … days left before the discharge!' The barracks answered in a unanimous 'Hurrah!' Old-timers prepared for return to civilian life in advance. They bought simile presents, photographed for the album and made plans for the future civilian life.
Andrew and Vasiliy Zhogols whom Alexander was called up for military service with served as topographers so Rudnev didn't see much of them. He made friends with three battery soldiers who appreciably excelled other soldiers in education and were nicknamed 'intellectuals'. Michael Goloshchapov was conscripted from Tosno that was near Leningrad; Nikolay Grebenets came from Novozybkovo district, while Alexander Samsonenko was called up from Vedrich, Gomel region.
The less time was left before the service was over the more frequently Alexander pondered over his future. His friends tried to persuade him to enter a nautical school either in Odessa or Novorossiysk. The political supervisor major Kanyuk praised highly the military and political school in Lvov.
-You've got a talent. After you graduate from Journalism Department you'll have a chance to get to the editorial staff of 'Krasnaya Zvezda'. If you don't want to study you may choose career military service and become commander of a control platoon.
The suggestions seemed to be very tempting. However, Alexander longed to go home and he frankly confessed to this.
His friend Michael was badly disappointed.
Rudnev put his arm round his friend's shoulder, 'Don't take any offence! Sea is not my cup of tea. The service in the army has made me so sick and tired that I'd better go to the kolkhoz.'
-You must be joking!
-I am. I'll risk entering History Department once again. If I fail then I'll go to work in the kolkhoz.
-You won't fail. You are obstinate…
When there were several days left before the order of discharge their unit was stirred by the news about events in Czechoslovakia. The neighboring tank brigade marched to Prague quickly as a part of the Limited Contingent of Soviet troops. They began to rumor their rocket brigade was going to be redeployed there, too. No one wanted to believe this but everyone had disquieting apprehensions so Rudnev made for the Komsomol committee of the battery. Tyushlyayev met him with a worried look on his face.
-The order is secret. I would not tell anyone about it. You are my deputy, though. It has been decided to demobilize only a part of non-commissioned officers and other ranks whose service is over in autumn. The rest, including you, will remain in the reserve until the situation clears up.
-Comrade senior lieutenant, how's that?
-Rudnev, I am surprised at you. You are a communist! In stead of volunteering you moan like a soldier who serves his first year.
- Comrade senior lieutenant!..
-Stop talking! The order has been signed and I am unable to revoke it.
Rudnev rushed to Uvarov as there was no one else to rely on. Though he knew Uvarov was going on leave Alexander hoped he might not have left yet.
Uvarov was packing his suitcases diligently. Alexander saw him and gave a sigh of relief.
-Rudnev, someone must have been at your heels.
- Comrade senior lieutenant! Thanks God you are still here. Help me to be discharged! You know I have prepared a reliable substitute for myself, Valery Groshev from Tyumen knows the computer none the worse than I do.
-Well, as far as 'none the worse' is concerned I doubt it strongly.
-Well, he lacks in experience but he has scrutinized the technology of computer data processing. I have been coaching him several months. He can keep within time limits now.
-Rudnev, you are crying for the moon. I am not a brigade commander.
-You can do anything, comrade senior lieutenant! Help me. I've never let you down!
The last phrase impressed Uvarov. He was an ambitious person who always assumed an independent air. He frequently ventured the liberties no one else would be able to get away with while for him it was like water off a duck's back. Once, Alexander was an unwitting accomplice of his squabble with the brigade commander when some system failures came to light in the work of the computer. The annoyed brigade commander started to tell Uvarov off.
-You've made a mess of the computer, you are bloody fools! What shall I do now?
Uvarov answered at a moment's notice.
-You may try to repair it, comrade colonel!
The impudence made the brigade commander choke with anger. He wanted to say something but he saw Rudnev, so he waved his hand and went out.
Although he had a too high opinion of himself, the senior lieutenant could value others. Rudnev appealed to him because he had mother wit and brilliant school education. Sometimes Uvarov noticed he yielded to Rundev in some respects. This upset him but never turned into a reason for discord. There was no denying the truth he could always rely upon Rudnev just like upon himself.
-OK, I'll try. Wait for me here.
He headed for the battery commander even without changing his clothes, just as he was wearing blue tracksuit trousers and a light green shirt. He was back in about fifteen minutes.
-You may go and pack your suitcase. You are in the list of those who are to be discharged.
Rudnev almost choked with happiness. He had always kept at arm's length and never called his commander by name, even during their friendly talks, but now the words escaped his lips, 'Valery Pavlovich… Thank you! Honest to God, I'll never forget your kindness!'
On June 22, 1968 at the formation they announced the names of those who were discharged.
-Guardsman sergeant Rudnev!
-I am!
-the command awards you by a letter of commendation for achievements in military and political training and for immaculate service.
-I serve my Motherland!
The battery commander presented the letter of commendation to him and shook his hand.
-Happy journey, sergeant! I wish you to enter the institute.
Several hours later followed by the envious looks of those who had been struck off the list at the very last moment, they were driven by ZIL cars to the brigade first where Alexander was struck off the party register and then to Magdeburg where a troop train to Moscow was made up. There were several hundred of demobilized soldiers there. They were divided into companies and drilled several days on the ground preparing them for the final review. Each of them was given new uniform and could optionally take a set of winter wear and some underwear. Most soldiers refused to take long underwear but the sergeant major who handed the things out didn't want to stand any objections, 'I am ordered to hand everything out and I will. You may do whatever you want with the things.'
Everyone had a free hand what to do with the imposed gift. Those soldiers who were lazy to mess about with the unnecessary uniform just threw it into the bushed at the check-point. Some jokers laid out the words 'Peace' at the town gates on an embankment using long underwear.
The final review was traditionally completed by the march 'Slav farewell'. Rudnev was sick and tired of military life. Nevertheless, he was excited by the tune familiar since childhood. It was only now that he understood both his father and Vladimir Ivanovich were right saying the army helps a person grow mature. He gained in strength significantly. Before the service in the army he weighed sixty five kilos, when the service was over he weighed eighty five. His character had undergone significant changes, too. There were no more traces left of the youth recklessness. Alexander learnt to command himself. All his actions displayed confidence.
Almost the whole of the city gathered to see off the troop train. Bustle reigned on the platform. Sergeants major were running up and down checking the present staff and swearing on every occasion. Soldiers had managed to obtain some alcoholic drinks, raised their spirits, told jokes and jokes with the local girls who crowded near the carriages. Older women many of whom had tears in their eyes slipped food into soldiers' hands. Men kept aside and watched with curiosity everything that went on. Although, unlike women, they were more reserved about expressing their emotions they also wished well. When the train started off people began to throw flowers into the open windows. Alexander didn't expect any seeing-off as touching as this. He remembered his father's stories about how inhabitants of liberated Prague met Soviet soldiers. Those people were Slavs, but now they were seen off by Germans, the children of those who lost the war. He looked into their faces and observed merely sincere cordiality. That is why when a tipsy soldier threw a burning cigarette into the crowd he grabbed him by the elbow.
-What are you doing, son of a bitch? You are disgracing the army!..
The journey home took about a week. Soldiers felt freedom and hastened to celebrate it. At every stop of the train somebody managed to get some alcohol. In the middle of their journey it was rumored the trainmaster demands bribes from every passenger, allegedly for contingency provisions. The tipsy soldiers were outraged to the innermost of their hearts.
-This rat wants to make a profit out of us!
A group of volunteers headed for the staff coach to settle the matter. Rudnev realized that passions flared up and accompanied them. The trainmaster saw a militant delegation and understood he had gone too far.
-How much do you demand from a person? We'll chip in on the square. The money will be enough both for a funeral repast and a good monument to you!
The trainmaster was white as a sheet.
-That's … a mistake… You've misunderstood me! Please keep discipline or I'll have to send for military patrol.
-Do you dear threaten us, son of a bitch? Chaps, let's throw him out of the window!
Several intoxicated soldiers made for the trainmaster. Rudnev realized they perceive the situation inadequately and stood between them and the potential victim.
-Sasha, have you taken it into your head to protect him? Are you betraying us? Step aside!
-I am protecting you, idiots. You may get even with him, he deserves it but then you are going to spend the rest of your life in prison. Isn't the price too high? Think of your mothers who may never wait for you.
The confident tone had a sobering effect on the soldiers.
-Sasha, you are right! Let's go and have booze! Sasha, are you going with us?
-Yes, I am!
-Let's go, then!
The Zhogols brothers and several guys from Zhitkovichy district traveled in the same train. They got out in Minsk.
-Chaps, we've been sober as judges for the whole week. Now when it's all over we may bend the elbow. I know there is a decent grocery near the railway station. I can make a quick run over to the shop, - one of the demobilized guys suggested.
-You may, but take care not to run up on the patrol, - Rudnev warned him.
-What do they have to do with us now? We are free people!
-As long as we wear the uniform we're not free. The patrol is fully entitled to send us back to the unit for violation of army regulations.
They didn't risk going to a caf? in the uniform and cracked a bottle in a public garden. Alexander didn't become used to drinking. Even a hundred grams made him dizzy. He wanted to reach home as quickly as possible but it was a lot of time left before the evening train so they loafed their time away near the railway station for several hours trying not to catch the eyes of the patrol…
The army service literally made us related with each other. Rudnev still remembers his army friends Grishkevich Zbignev, Anatoly Mamed-zade, Alexander Samsonenko, Nikolai Gribents, Michael Goloshchapov, Vasily Skarzhevsky, Oleg Khmelevsky, Nikolai Tyupalo, Viktor Bondarenko, Murat Khoudaiberdiyev, Dzhavliyev and many others.
The meeting with relatives went in just the same as when he came on leave. The mother was fussing around the yard, as usual. When she saw the son she didn't recognize him at once as the changes were too striking. She saw off tot eh army a thin teenager. Now a stately man had come back. When Alexander embraced his father and lifted him off the ground hands down, the father grunted, 'You've made a real man!..'
In the evening they laid several tables in the yard under the shed and placed wooden benches. Half of the village was Rudnev's relatives. All of them, both close and distant, as well as friends and acquaintances considered it their duty to call on the soldier who had just returned from the army and to rejoice at his achievements together with his parents. Alexander knew that about fifty people were going to gather so he said to his mother, 'Don't worry, I've got the money to buy spirits. Do we need anything else to buy? Nikolai and I will go to the shop.'
-Don't worry, sonny! I have prepared everything in advance. I bought a bottle every time I was given my pay. If we don't have enough there's some home-brewed vodka. Go and have a look under the sofa. I have piled up a lot!
There hiding place turned out to be empty. The brothers decided their mother had confused something so they carefully examined all privy places in the house where spirits could be kept but they failed to find anything. The perplexed brothers told this to their mother. She showed up her hands, rushed to the sofa and then to her husband with her fists clenched.
-You lousy drunkard! Haven't I given you enough? You've guzzled everything down to the last drop! How shall I look people in the face now?
Nikolai Rudnev meekly suffered the blows that were raining down onto him and was trying to calm down his wife who had flown into a rage.
-Well, that's enough… Big deal! I had drunk everything because I worried about the son.
-Look who's talking! You'd better keep silent. You worried about anything but your son.
There was no time to settle the matter as guests had already arrived. The tables burst with snacks. Although the village menu is far from being notable for any special extravagance it is not inferior to the one in town as far as variety is concerned. Village inhabitants don't give themselves a lot of treats in everyday life but they always keep some village sausage dried in the attic, bloated meat, and cheese for some special occasion. Fried eggs with cracklings and pancakes stand high in people's esteem. Cutlets, fish, hen or turkey served with boiled potatoes, salted cucumbers and sauerkraut, pickled and salted mushrooms, fruit and vegetables - far from every restaurant can offer the choice like this. Nevertheless, sad as it may sound it is not bread but it is alcohol that runs the show at a village feast. A guest who is not very squeamish may forgive the hosts lack in snacks but he thinks vodka must flow like water.
Before his son's return Nikolai Rudnev started to hit the bottle quite often. He didn't pay any attention to his wife's admonitions.
-People get just one bite at the cherry of human life. There may be some life in the next world but we are sure not to have an occasion to clink glasses there!
Sometimes they tanked up so much they even didn't feel the smell of alcohol and drank mechanically one glass after another. One day Alexandra made an experiment. When her husband asked to bring another portion of home-brewed vodka she filled the kettle used as a bottle at unofficial feast with common well water and warned Nikolai very strictly, 'I've poured the last portion. The one I had kept for Easter. For the life of me, there's nothing more left!'
The drinking companions who were on the point to fall off the bench filled their glasses, admired the transparence of their contents and gulped the liquid. They screwed their eyes and opened their mouths with pleasure, waved their hands, smelled salted cucumbers and grunted, 'That's real fresh home-brewed vodka! Let's set fire to it and see how it burns!'
Traditionally, they found out the quality of home-brewed vodka by its burning. One dipped in a piece of paper into the glass and set it to fire. When the flame was violet and almost unnoticeable the spirit was forty degrees strong. When the flame was red and white it testified to the fact the glass contained raw vodka. For fear of being disclosed Alexandra hastened to shame her husband, 'You're so full you can't make out what you are drinking!'
The words of his wife worked. Nikolai lifted his forefinger upwards, waved it from side to side and said in a strict manner, 'It's none of your business.' Then he looked at his companion and specified, 'Is it fresh home-brewed vodka?' The companion confirmed without any hesitation, 'It is…'
Fortunately, although struggle against alcoholism was announced in the press from time to time it was mainly of propaganda nature. They wrote about the need to watch over the quality of produced spirits and developing the culture of drinking spirits. The quatrains of the poet Rasoul Gamzatov from Dagestan that glorified medicinal properties of wine were very popular. The poet asserted, 'Everyone may drink but the thing is that one should know who with, why and how much he drinks!' His response to those few who criticized him was, 'Those who drank are gone, and those who drink will die but I wonder if teetotalers are immortal.' There was no lack in spirits. Even village shops, besides vodka and fortified wine called 'plonk', offered cognac and dry wine. They were cheap, e.g. a bottle of Ukrainian table wine 'Rkatsitely' was less than a ruble, a bottle of Moldavian 'Fetyaska' cost a ruble and a half while a bottle of Bulgarian 'Risling' was two rubles ten kopeks. 'Gamsa' sold in three-liter bottles used as a decanter later was especially popular. Nevertheless, these delicate drinks were consumed only by intellectuals, common people preferred vodka and plonk…
Rudnevs' quests didn't pay any special attention to the hitch about spirits. They attributed it to the anxiety of the parents whose son had finally returned from the army. The feast went on until daybreak. The questions about the army were followed by talks about politics, and then they started to discuss village matters. Even the staunchest adherents of village life and agriculture advised the demobilized soldier, 'You should go to town, Alexander. There is no future for you in Rudna.'
Unfortunately, the words had bitter truth. It was already at the time that the first signs of problems Byelorussian villages faced emerged. Youth received good education in cities but they couldn't find a proper application for it in their native place, so they chose not to return to their villages. Village population reduced, one could hear voices of children in the street less and less often.

 

PERIOD OF HAPPINESS

Alexander was a night owl by nature so he often dreamed in the army, 'When I come back home I'll make up for lost sleep first of all. I'll sleep all day long. If only you knew what mattresses my mother has. They are stuffed with odorous hay and straw.'
His friends echoed him, 'Indeed, it would be a good idea to have a good thirty-six hour sleep!'
However, when he came home he jumped out of bed like a wind-up toy at seven every morning. He seemed to hear the sounds of a bugle. He poured onto himself a bucket of cold well water, wiped himself red and went for a run.
His mother would often say, 'Why don't you have some more sleep, sonny? Why do you get up so early?'
'If you sleep all morning long it means the whole day is lost. If you miss the spring the whole of your life goes down the tube,' Alexander quoted some great personality in his own way. His mother followed him with her eyes admiring the son's stately figure.
-Your spring is just beginning, sonny. God save you…
He didn't rack his brains over where to enter. Grodno didn't attract him after two failures. He had to choose between the Belarusian State University and the Pedagogical Institute named after Gorky. The university seemed impossible to enter. Alexander thought only the elite studied there. A peasant by birth, he didn't make the grade as one of the elite. His army friend Alexander Samsonenko whom he encountered in Zhitkovichy suggested taking the papers to Minsk. He planned to enter the Pedagogical Institute, too.
-My uncle lives in Minsk. He will complete the formalities properly.
The uncle turned out to be out of town. Samsonenko was busy with his family matters as a result his neighbor took the papers. She handed them to the selection committee of the University by mistake. When Rudnev learnt this he was horrified. His mind was in turmoil.
Samsonenko regretted things had turned out this way but it was too late to change anything.
Alexander was word-perfect on history. He spent all his free time in the army reading the textbooks he took along with him after his leave. He looked through the brochure with the exam program that was available at any bookshop and got convinced he would be able to answer any question. The essay and a foreign language were the causes for concern. A written exam is always a lottery. If you put at least one comma in the wrong place you should give it up for lost! His knowledge of German was quite average.
At the end of July his second cousin Ella who was Barbara's granddaughter and her friend Yelena Lobova came from Moscow. The girls took Alexander in hand at once.
-Stop hitting the books. Relax!
-I can't. If I fail my exams the third time my parents will think I'm a botcher.
-Why enter the institute? After you receive a teacher's diploma you'll be back to the village where you'll lead a dull life. If you don't ruin yourself by drinking you'll turn into the man in the street who'll have very limited interests. You're such a handsome guy! Let's go to Moscow. We'll help you get a decent job. You'll earn some money and dress up. Afterwards you'll make up your mind whether you want to study or not.
The girls' offer sounded tempting. The thought he would be able to attend all football matches in Luzhniki fascinated him. However, Alexander became cool quite quickly. He was scared even of going to Minsk, not to mention Moscow, the capital of the USSR! He thought a bird in the hands is worth two in the bush.
On weekdays the three of them walked beyond the village. The girls were admiring nightingales singing in the twilight. 'You've never come across anything like this in Moscow!' Alexander thought. He was full of pride for his native place. At weekends he brought the girls to the local club to dance. They didn't come back home till the first cockcrow. The parents were glad their son wiped his mind clear of harassing thoughts at least for a while and tried not to burden him with any household duties. Moreover, the younger Nikolai had already finished school and was to be their help before he was conscripted.
When Ella said goodbye she left them one-to-one as if by chance. Alexander got confused and grumbled at the sister. This amused Yelena very much.
One day she looked at him steadily and asked, 'Sasha, tell me the truth, have you ever kissed a girl?'
The blunt question of the girl made Alexander blush with embarrassment. One couldn't say he scared easily. Besides, when his army service was over he dismissed his na?ve ideas about relations between a man and a woman. Nevertheless, he always felt awkward beside a more experienced Yelena who seemed to be a society lioness to him. He was extremely embarrassed by the fact she smoked. The women in the village never smoked any tobacco. Yelena offered the way out of the awkward situation. She embraced the guy by the neck and kissed his lips. Alexander almost choked with excitement. His body shivered all over. Being embarrassed by the fact he was kissed by the girl he tried to take over the initiative and embraced Yelena's waist but he did this hastily and awkwardly.
'Sasha, you are a good guy but you're not quite my type,' Yelena said. It seemed to him she pronounced the words with pity.
There seemed to be some humiliation of his dignity about what she did so Alexander couldn't fall asleep for a long time after they parted reproducing the inoffensive episode in his mind.
'How should I behave towards her now?' he thought. He fell asleep almost at dawn.
The situation that seemed to be so complicated to Rudnev settled by itself. The next day the girls were visited by their old friends, an assistant professor and a postgraduate student of a higher education establishment in the capital. The odds were evidently in their favor so Alexander gave in to the intruders without any hesitation. Moreover, he had neither chances nor time to win the girl. There was only one day left before the entrance exams.
The Muscovites offered to see Alexander off and they accompanied him almost as far as Zhitkovichy. At parting Ella said, 'I wish you to fail, brother. Then you are sure to come to Moscow. You are not going to have any future here.'
The guest echoed her and promised any possible assistance in the capital. Yelena looked at him intently and asked him to come. Then she added with meaning, 'I'll be glad…'
Alexander knew perfectly well the words meant nothing but ordinary woman's coquetry. Nevertheless, he was excited by them just like by the unexpected kiss…
After he arrived at the railway station he made his way to the hostel in Sverdlov Street. He found there Samsonenko and another two of his acquaintances. One of them was Vladimir Yaroshevich who played in the reserves of Minsk 'Dinamo.' Alexander frequently saw his name in application lists for matches. They were accommodated in the room where students of Geology Department lived. In the morning they went to the selection committee. Alexander was glad to find out he had to take history as the first exam. He knew at subsequent exams examiners always pay attention to the first mark. He was sure of his success. He carefully noted down the time of the exam. He had to take it on August 9 at 15.00.
He came 15 minutes before the exam. He decided to be among the first five applicants taking the exam. He expected to see a crowd of excited applicants but when he arrived the corridor was almost empty. He was quite surprised so he looked into the room. The only person he saw there was an examiner who was filling in the exam sheet.
-Who are you looking for, young man?
-I have come… to take my exam.
-Let me have a look at your exam paper.
The examiner had a look at it, shifted his eyes to the exam sheet and then glanced at Rudnev with surprise.
-I have to upset you as you have either overslept or missed your exam. Have a look. I've put 'failed to come' opposite your name.
-Well, but I came at the appointed time!
-Well, I don't know. The exam started at 9.00. You may inquire at the selection committee.
Alexander made sure he had confused the groups and dragged himself along to the executive secretary of the selection committee thinking about how he was going to have an explanation with his parents.
-I want to take back my papers.
-You haven't even taken your exam. Do you feel you aren't ready?
The dean of Biology Department, a former front-line soldier Professor Petrovich was in charge of the selection committee. He was in the habit of making decisions only when he was absolutely sure of their correctness. He looked through Rudnev's papers and specified, 'Have you demobilized recently?'
-Yes, I have.
-Why aren't you wearing the uniform, then? This is a weighty argument in favor of an applicant.
-I want to enter on a fair basis… Without enjoying any privileges.
-That deserves praise. Are you a Komsomol member?
-I'm a Bolshevik.
Alexander used the archaism absent-mindedly. His father always called himself this.
Petrovich looked at the unusual applicant with undisguised curiosity. He made sure Rudnev had no intention to miss the exam, ordered him to wait and walked away. He came back about ten minutes later. He handed Rudnev an exam paper made out in Alexander's name.
-Now, sergeant, you may go and take the exam with the second group. Be more careful in future.
This time Rudnev was met by an agitated crowd. His attempt to enter the room was stamped on resolutely.
-Well, lad, though you seem to be a person with a pull you should nevertheless observe elementary proprieties. Stop tanking through!
-Chaps, I'm not a man with a pull at all. I've missed my exam but my father is never going to believe me. He'll beat me to death. I asked to give me a chance to be given the two I deserve.
Everyone liked the joke.
-OK, come in. You don't have to queue to get a bad mark.
Alexander took his examination question card and looked at the questions. The questions were 'The reasons for slump of the first revolution of 1905-1907' and 'Revolutionary movement in Europe in the 19th century.' He stepped aside from the examiners, and then he suddenly turned back to them again.
-May I answer right now?
The applicants were examined by associate professors Ignatenko and Sidortsov. Rudnev knew from stories of students they were nicknames 'chastisers' as they failed one applicant after another.
Judging by their faces the examiners were surprised by the impudence of the applicant but they didn't contradict. Alexander rattled off readily the answer to the first question and he used facts from historical literature he was so keen on at that. After the phrase 'Gentlemen, saddle your horses. A revolution has broken out in Hungary!' that the emperor Alexander I pronounced at the ball Sidortsov started smiling. He must have liked the erudition of the applicant. When Rudnev was answering the second question he felt in his element again. The examiners asked him twelve more questions to do with dates. They did this out of curiosity rather than with the intention to fail. Alexander named all the dates without a flub.
'Well, old man, I thought you were an impudent person but you turned out to know history really well. We need Komsomol members like you at the department,' Sidortsev said.
-I am not a Komsomol member.
-How come?
Sidortsev looked at Rudnev angrily.
-I am a member of the All-Russian Communist Party [Bolshevist].
-Well then. Will you tell me when the party was renamed the CPSU?
-In 1952 at the XIX party congress…
Rudnev was going for an interview in an easy mood. The considerable number of marks he received was enough to accept even school leavers as students, not to mention Alexander who had served in the army. The dean confirmed he didn't need to worry about this and advised him to get ready to go to agricultural sector to help gather potatoes…
The August was nearly over but Alexander didn't receive any summons. First he attributed the delay to the sluggishness of the postal service. Gradually, anxiety crept in. There were some grounds to worry. When Rudnev was transferred to the reserve he wasn't given any reference so he had to enclose an old one that was given three years before. The selection committee paid attention to this. Alexander explained he had served in rocket forces and that papers are sent from there only by official request. This might have been the reason for refusal. No one feels like writing to the middle of nowhere. Grandma Seraphima turned the situation to her profit.
-Let's go to Moscow, sonny. You'll help me to take preserves and pickles there.
This was enough to make Alexander cry. It would be one thing if he had failed, but he had passed the exams almost on a par with those who finished school with excellent marks. It couldn't be helped, anyway, so he began to pack up his things to go to Moscow. They delivered the summons on August 30 when the trunks accurately packed by granny were put to the inner porch. Seraphima couldn't conceal her disappointment while happy Alexander rushed headlong to the shop and bought a bottle of his favorite 'Kagor'.
The next day he left for Minsk. He even didn't have time to buy some warm clothes as he was afraid to be late. When he arrived at the university he found out he had been appointed monitor of group five…
Assistance to agricultural sector to harvest potatoes was an indispensable duty of every student, only fifth-year students were exempted from it. This practice helped first-year students to get to know each other better. Some students even fell in love. There were much more opportunities for this than in the city. Students were accommodated in the houses of local inhabitants. After work was over they had supper that was cooked by their fellow students and organized dancing. Provident girl had dresses and shoes for this occasion while most of the guys came to dance wearing work wear. Somebody found Rudnev a frayed quilted coat that he sported at the improvised dance ground. Nevertheless, village wear didn't spoil Alexander's image. The tall and broad-shouldered guy attracted attention of many girls. Even fourth-year students who were also assigned to the kolkhoz admired him and tried to look after him in every possible way. Nevertheless, Alexander didn't pay any serious attention to the fair sex although senior students recommended him insistently to pay attention to the girl who was a daughter of a famous scholar and who seemed to be indifferent about him.
-Get married, old chap! You'll make a wonderful career. You'll have residence permit in Minsk, take postgraduate course and own a flat… What else do you need?
The situation might have been settled by itself if they had had some sexual affair. Yet, this couldn't have happened a priori. Those who don't have any idea about the atmosphere of 1960s can't comprehend the reserve of young people. Nowadays even teenagers hasten to pick the forbidden fruit of love without a moment's hesitation. Their parents believed sincerely there can be only one sexual partner and carefully looked for their only half.
Alexander didn't permit himself even to kiss the girl. It seemed to him he would have to take some serious decision after the intimacy like this. The thing was he was not sure the girl was the one destined for him by God. Besides, he had five long years of studies ahead. He couldn't burden himself with a family.

***
After the drill in the army lack of restrictions of student life captured Alexander by its diversity. He had time to do everything. He attended lectures, went to the gym and the library. True, he passed his first examinations session with difficulty, though without any 'threes'. It was his meticulous nature that did him a bad turn. He read primary sources in CPSU history and philosophy trying to comprehend everything to a nicety and sometimes sat over books until midnight. He could quote big pieces from the works of Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx but he didn't have time to read textbooks so his answers at the exam were not always as accurate as teachers wanted them to be.
When Alexander's friends were going to the cinema or to dance they kidded Alexander who was studying another classic, 'Sashok, you must be geared up to become professor's son-in-law. Indeed, you need knowledge to become a member of his family, a crib won't help. Yet, while you suffer over Marxists somebody will lead the girl away from you!'
Rudnev just waved away, 'You'd better listen to what Lenin writes about laws of historic development.'
Yet, his friends were more interested in entirely different matters.
-Rudnev, you'll be touched one day after reading so much of this 'Materialism!..'
Alexander still frequently recollects his room 86 in the hostel in Sverdlov Street. It was a small room with five beds, three bedside tables and a table squeezed into it with difficulty. All conveniences were in the corridor. They had to take a shower according to a special timetable. He closes his eyes and hears the voices of his friends Lionya Loiko. Petya Bozhko, Lionya Khankevich and Kolya Cheliadyuk. They lived as a commune. They pooled everything they brought from home. There were some students in their hostel who locked their bedside tables and eat stealthily trying to avoid reproachful looks of their friends. These people were treated with contempt.
Home food was not out of place. The scholarship of 26 rubles and the 25 rubles sent by the parents monthly were enough only for scanty food while they wanted to take a girl to the cinema and to treat her to some ice-cream. They couldn't imagine themselves saying, 'You should pay for yourself.' They visited home very rarely so there happened to be moments when there was not a thing in their bedside tables and when only buts chinked in their pockets. Then they chipped in everything they had and bought fried sprat that cost less than a ruble a kilo or some brawn. They somehow managed to last out till the next scholarship. At the most critical periods they went to the railway station at night to unload goods vans. They carried fifty-kilo sacks until morning. They went back to the hostel staggering. They didn't enter their room; they literally crawled in on all fours. But the, each of them had ten rubles in his pocket.
Scholarship was given to advanced students only. When a student received at least one 'three' it meant he missed the boat. The meeting of the scholarship committee that included a dean and group monitors went in a violent way. Every monitor tried to wring as much as possible for his group. Yet, there was a limit they were not allowed to exceed.
History Department was headed by associate professor Pyotr Zakharovich Savochkin. During the war he served in counter-intelligence of a division. There were legends going on about his heroic deeds. They even said he was promoted to the rank of Hero of the Soviet Union twice but his documents were lost as it usually happened at the time. He was an exceptionally modest man so he never insisted on the document to be searched. Savochkin who was a laconic and calm man never raised his voice. He treated students in a fatherly way and tried to help them as much as he could but he didn't like windbags. This must have been the reason why he marked out Rudnev among other group monitors because Alexander was a man of few words and he had reasonable nature. The deputy dean Alexander Petrovich Ignatenko was polarity as compared to Savochkin. He always had a gloomy and sullen look and he was not willing to communicate with students who didn't display any warm feelings towards him in their turn.
Rudnev was quite well aware of economic conditions of all students in his group. Most of them came from rural areas and were inferior to city dwellers as far as their knowledge was concerned while they needed support more than those who lived with their families. Alexander was good at finding compelling arguments and often insisted on giving scholarship even to those who had 'threes'. Other group monitors came down on him but Savochkin always resumed their discussions by the phrase, 'Rudnev must be right.'
When he had to take an important decision Alexander always turned to Savochkin and always followed his advice. When he was a third-year student the secretary of the university party committee Michael Gorbachev offered Rudnev to transfer to correspondence tuition and go to work as an instructor to Minsk rural district party committee. They needed at the time an energetic young man who had served in the army. The suggestion was very tempting. It implied high salary, authority and a flat in the nearest future. Besides, it meant prospects for career advancement. Yet, Savochkin cooled Alexander's enthusiasm.
-I know you are not afraid of any hardships and you'll cope with the workload. Nevertheless, it seems to me party work is not your vocation. You're a man of principle who has his own view of everything and who values his own opinion. They need obedient executives in the district committee. There may be some conflicts because of this that may significantly complicate your future life. I think science is more likely to be your cup of tea. After you graduate from university you have every chance to enter full-time postgraduate course. Besides, you may choose party career any time you wish.
Rudnev agreed with the arguments of the dean. Yet, when some students who had never even dreamed of party career learnt about his decision they turned their forefinger near the temple and said, 'You must have lost your wits, Sasha!'
Rudnev as a person with initiative was always busy. Besides being group monitor, he was party bureau member of their Department and member of the Komsomol committee of the University. Mikhail Tivo headed the University Komsomol organization. He was a merry fellow and a great talker and he was able to make inflammatory speeches. He was small so he could hardly be seen when he stood at the platform but his voice rang all over the assembly hall. After meetings of the Komsomol committee he frequently praised Rudnev for adherence to his principles and prophesied Alexander was going to have a big future.
It must have been at the suggestion of Mikhail that an event which raised Alexander's authority to an unprecedented height occurred in his life. In October 1970 an annual party conference was held at the university. The party organization of the Byelorussian State University numbered over a thousand people and enjoyed the rights similar to those of a district committee. Rudnev and some more students who were communists were chosen as delegates. His friends tried to talk Alexander into ignoring the event.
-Let's register ourselves and then take off. We'd better blow somewhere to drink beer than listen to tedious speeches all day long.
Alexander liked the idea because he also didn't enjoy summary reports about oneself that speeches at party conferences usually turned into. There had never been any contentious debates to do with topical issues of university life. The party committee requested texts of speeches to be shown for preview and thoroughly eliminated any inappropriate idea as they feared somebody's speech may be not to a point. Still, some gut feeling prevented Rudnev from leaving the conference.
-Well, guys, I'd better stay. Anything may happen. You go and I'll cover you up if necessary.
The conference went its usual way. The party committee secretary made a report. He began his speech with Brezhnev quotations concerning the tasks higher school was facing and told in detail how the university solved them. The secretary emphasized some problems and named shortcomings. Front-office directions ordered communists strictly not to tolerate success turning their heads and to pay proper attention to self-criticism. Yet, the speaker gave negative facts in brief as if they were some unfortunate misunderstanding. Debates went in a similar vein. They were the same summary reports about oneself and vows to do one's best to eliminate the shortcomings. Rudnev settled in the gallery and was reading a detective following the example of many others.
After Mikhail Gorbachev made a closing speech in which he thanked all speakers for active participation in the discussion and the pieces of advice that would help rise party work to a higher level they went over to nominating candidates to be members of the party committee. This was much more interesting. Moreover, the suggestions of the party committee were read out by a corresponding member of the Academy for Pedagogical Sciences of the USSR Lavrenty Semenovich Abetsedarsky.
Lavrenty Abetsedarsky was a legendary figure. He was a prominent historian who belonged to the older generation of scientists who considered science to be the purpose of their lives. He treated research work as carefully as gold diggers did the process of washing gold dust. He never permitted himself even the slightest negligence and was very exacting to others, too. He was gentle and sympathetic by nature but he could dress one down in such a way so that the unfortunate thing remembered this for the rest of his or her life. He didn't admit any regalia, never hunted after any titles and was alien to any pomposity. His office differed very little from an ordinary auditorium. There was a big table crammed with manuscripts, an ordinary chair and some bookcases. If only Lavrenty Abetsedarsky could see the luxury his successors furnished their offices with he would have decided he was in a royal palace instead of an educational institution!
When Lavrenty Semenovich came up to the platform dead silence fell. He looked strictly over the assembly hall as if making up his mind whom to call out and then took a list of the candidates. Rudnev, just like everyone who was present at the conference, knew the list had been carefully prepared in advance. They took into account everything including representation of departments, average age, the number of professors and associate professors, as well as the number of men and women. Every candidate was discussed several times. If the slightest flaw or discrepancy to the model recommended by the decision-making authority was revealed the candidate was substituted by another one who was thought to be more appropriate. Discussion of candidates at the party conference was of formal nature. Everyone knew this so when people made speeches they limited themselves to stating good points only. To pretend the procedure had democratic nature they didn't enter the names of the rector and the party committee secretary in the original list. They were entered additionally. The list was made in alphabetical order…
-Rudnev Alexander Nikolayevich, a third-year student of History Department…
If the ceiling in the assembly hall had collapsed Alexander would have been surprised less. He didn't expect to be promoted to members of the party committee. True, the principle of democratic centralism required that ordinary communists were included in the board. However, there were many students who were communists and Lenin's grant holders at university and who deserved to be promoted. Besides, nobody had talked to him about that while he knew decisions of the kind were never taken offhand. Could this be some mistake? Could there be a person bearing the same family name among the forty thousand university students? No, everything was right. Rudnev who was an ordinary guy from the village and who was afraid even to enter the university two years ago had been nominated to the board of the republic's leading educational establishment!
The feelings Rudnev had at the moment could not be described as fear, joy, or despair. To be more exact all of the feelings made some intricate mixture in his soul that contained also pride for the given credence and fear not to justify it.
Discussion of his candidacy went smoothly. Somebody asked him what assignments he had executed before. Savochkin who sat on the panel confirmed Alexander was a true communist. The voting was by secret ballot. When the ballots were counted it turned out there were five votes against while other candidates received more of these. This practice was a kind of an attempt to follow party guidelines. If some decision was taken unanimously it was considered it had been formally discussed.
Rudnev's friends pursued him in the hostel. Some of them congratulated him sincerely while others harassed with their jokes that had a hint of undisguised envy.
-Sasha, you're a big boss now. One can approach you only when giving you a finger behind your back!..
-What will be your guidelines, comrade party committee member - to drink or not to drink?
-Shall I bring your bag, please?
Alexander who was phlegmatic by nature didn't react to the agitation around him. It was only his close friends that he confessed to he was confused.
-Why did they choose me? I didn't distinguish myself by anything special. I'm not a straight A student. I'm far from being ideal as far as my behavior is concerned… Now I'll have to think carefully over every step I make and every word I say. It sounds like drudgery, guys!.. Will I be able to shoulder the burden like this? It means huge responsibility! God forbid I won't cope then I won't survive the disgrace.
Somewhere at heart his second 'self' persuaded him he would cope and shoulder the burden. It whispered in a flattering manner, 'It you've been nominated it means you deserve this! Let others envy you!' Alexander never suffered from self-admiration. Rather, he always had a sort of inferiority complex side by side with those who came from the city. The brand of a guy from the village reduced a little but didn't disappear. This fact hurt his pride. When he was alone he frequently repeated to himself, 'I'll get round you anyway.' After classes he often dropped in to the Central Bookshop in Lenin Avenue which was almost at a stone's throw from the main building. He watched new books, especially poetry. Once he was lucky enough to buy a book by Apollinaire. In 1960s this French poet was popular with advanced youth. He stood at the window during the break and looked through the book.
-Can this be Apollinaire?
A student whose father took some important post in the sphere of culture stopped by him. There were several like her among the students of their year. They always kept aloof from other students and considered them to be a mob.
-Yes. This is a book by Apollinaire.
-Sell it to me. You don't need it at all!
The girls emphasized her superiority over Alexander who came from a rural area and who could only be the man in the street in her opinion. Alexander didn't answer anything. He closed the book and went to the auditorium.

***
Alexander knew how difficult it was to his parents to fin 25 rubles monthly so he tried to earn some money in summer. In 1960s and 1970s student construction teams became very popular. The country lacked workforce badly. The means assigned for construction couldn't be drawn so many construction projects were closed down until better days to come. Assistance of students became almost panacea for many enterprises and organizations. The Central Committee of the National Leninist Communist Union of Youth took control of the youth initiative. Construction teams that emerged in higher educational establishments were included into the National Student Construction Team. Each of them was assigned a special place for work. There was no region on the USSR map where students didn't take their hands in. They helped build accommodation and agricultural construction projects, schools and clubs. They also helped gather the harvest. They gave political briefings for the population and organized amateur concerts in their free time. It was considered to be a point of honor to participate in the student construction team. Students had special uniform. They were seen off and met after the work term was over in a grand manner.
Rudnev who was a communist and group monitor couldn't stand aside the patriotic youth movement. Yet, one could earn 300-400 rubles after two months at the construction team while the money could be three or four times more if a student had some unofficial construction job. Thus Alexander tried by right or wrong to enter the construction team made of senior students. Far from everyone was accepted. They listed only those who were physically strong and reliable, who were not going to complain, shirk work, dodge and cheat. It was also a good thing if a student had some basic construction skills. Rudnev fitted in all respects so he was entered the team that was to work in the Turukhan Area. The only matter to be settled was practical training in geology.
Alexander postponed the talk to Savochkin long enough. He couldn't imagine deceiving him but there was no other way to avoid the practical training so he took a risk. He told the dean about hard economic conditions in his family, that his parents have poor health so they would not be able to store up forage for livestock without his help. All this was true, though only partially. Alexander felt there was some insincerity about his words so he involuntarily tried to avoid the straight look of the dean. Savochkin was a shrewd psychologist by nature so he might have noticed this unusual feature in Alexander's behavior. He must have guessed his true intentions but he allowed him to miss the practical training. He realized perfectly well there were some good reasons for Rudnev to long to have some unofficial construction job.
Those who wished to go to the Turukhan Area were more than enough but Leonid Lobkovich who was making up the team chose only eighteen students. It was just enough to build the planned construction projects. He told the rest frankly and openly, 'Don't take any offence, guys. You know we're not going to have a holiday there; we're going to earn money. Extra people mean we're going to lose money…'
It took them over a week to get to their destination. They went by plane from Moscow via Gorky to Krasnoyarsk. Then they went by train to Abakan-Taishet. Rudnev knew from books that the area was turned into gulag by the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs. Millions of Soviet people served their sentences here for the crimes they never committed. Most of them remained here for ever. It seemed to Alexander there were some shadows of innocent victims behind the mighty trees that darted past the window.
At the station of Yelniki they were met by a manager of the works. He turned out to be their country fellow and a former sailor who always had his pea jacket on. The man shook hands with the students.
-Well, guys, if we need we'll move mountains together.
Rudnev responded, 'Let them remain intact. They are beautiful.'
-It's true they are but we lack road metal badly so we're going to shatter them.
They liked the joke. Everyone wanted to get down to business as quickly as possible.
The work day started at seven in the morning. At two in the afternoon at the very height of heat they made a short break and then they worked hard until dusk fell. They worked 12-14 hours a day without any weekends.
They had to build a garage for twenty lorries. Alexander was appointed team leader of concrete workers as he was the strongest. After dawdling for half a day over a tiny concrete mixer Alexander spat out, 'Well, guys, we're going to dawdle like this till doomsday. Let's repeat the exploit of slaves from ancient Rome.'
'What shall we do?' one of the students specified with caution.
'You'll just wait and see,' Alexander responded pulling a huge board.
They knocked up a kind of a sandpit and began to mix concrete by hand using heavy shovels. The team leader must have stretched the truth. Roman slaves would not have coped with the work like this. By the end of the day the concrete workers were exhausted. Their feet turned feeble. The only thing they thought about was to crawl to their beds. Nevertheless, it was lack of any equipment and construction materials supply stoppages rather than the killing labor that annoyed them most. All calculations were made by eye. They used fire hoses instead of ropes. The manager of the works did his best. He spent hours at the office begging for a crane and a lorry but the most frequent answer he was given was, 'They'll cope anyway. They're contract laborers!'
The only argument that worked was money. They had to give a kickback for every trifle from their future earnings no matter whether they wished this or not.
In a week even the strongest students felt awfully tired. They had meals at the workers' canteen. The food was far from being varied. They were served mainly tinned stew meat and macaroni. The food didn't restore their strength. When the season was over Alexander lost fifteen kilos. The rest of the guys also had to make new holes in their belts. Nevertheless, no one complained and tried to take to the bottle. Alcohol was prohibited in their team. It was only on the Day of a builder that happened to be in the second half of August when the work was nearly over that they drank a barrel of beer.
The first journey ended almost tragically for Rudnev. One day he and his friends went to the nearby mountain river at sunset. Alexander who enjoyed some unparalleled bliss stood in the cold water ankle-deep for half an hour. By morning he felt a sharp pain in his right leg that started to swell quickly. First he didn't pay any attention to this. He thought he might have got some splinter. The swelling turned bigger and the pain got stronger. There wasn't any hospital in the village. When they took medicines for the road they didn't remember to take any ointments. Moreover, by all appearances, ointments would be useless. Alexander was downright frightened. He made up his mind to return to Minsk. It was enough to make anybody cry when he thought he was going to be back with his pockets empty. Yet, the prospect of losing the leg didn't give him any time to hesitate. Ivan Rousakov came to his help. He told his grandma could treat almost any illness by spells. He found a woman who could do the same in the village. Alexander balked at first but then he came to the woman because he was in despair.
The woman looked at his leg, nodded her head thoughtfully and uttered in a peremptory tone, 'You've got erysipelas, my dear.'
Alexander had never heard the word before so he didn't go into detail. He watched skeptically the old woman making some mysterious manipulations with his leg. She closed her eyes, moved her hands round the leg, whispered something and sprinkled it with water. When everything was over she ordered, 'Come to my place tomorrow once again before sunset!'
'Tomorrow I'll be far away from here,' Rudnev thought. The manager of the works promised to give him a lift to the train very early in the morning. Nevertheless, to his great surprise, the pain in the leg gradually abated, so Alexander could even have some sleep. In the morning he saw the swelling had receded significantly. Leonid Lobkovich who sympathized with the friend advised him, 'Wait for another day. You never can tell!'
After the second session the strange illness finally abated so Alexander could return to the ranks. It was only when he came back to Minsk that he found out what terrible danger that even doctors were helpless about he faced…
When the weather-beaten manager of the logging enterprise visited the garage and the storehouse for dispatching wood that were built by the students he gave a whistle of surprise.
-Well done!
Nevertheless, when it came to closing work orders and reckoning he tried by right or wrong to reduce the pay as much as he could. Yet, even after all his manipulations with rates each of them was paid 1200 rubles. One was not ashamed to be back with the money as this was the sum a BSU assistant was paid a year.
In Minsk Rudnev called on to the dean and confessed to everything.
-Pyotr Zakharovich, it goes without saying I am to blame. I am very much ashamed of having deceived you but you should believe me I had no other way out. You would have forbidden the trip to the Turukhan Area. If I hadn't come there I wouldn't be able to last out without the money.
Savochkin didn't tell him off.
-It's bad you haven't had your practical training but I hope you'll make up for it during the year. The good thing is that you've confessed to everything. It means I wasn't mistaken about you.
He thought for a while and added, 'Now you may go home instead of going to the rural area to help collect potatoes. You didn't lie about having to help your parants. You'll have some rest. You've grown too thin!'
Fellow villagers hardly recognized Alexander. He was wearing white trousers, a tie, fashionable shoes and carrying 'Spidola' that was a cherished dream of many local boys. He reminded very much someone who came from the city. His father walked round him examining as if he were some strange museum piece but didn't say a word. It was even difficult to understand whether he liked this quick transformation of his son from a country guy into an intellectual. The mother oohed and aahed over him and was never tired of looking at her son. When Alexander gave her the money he planned to buy presents to his parents on but changed his mind and decided to ask for advice after finding out his parents were hard up the mother said, 'My dear sonny! We should help you instead. Keep the money. You might buy yourself something!'
-Mum, will you take the money. This is not the last money I give you. I have enough to last me out for the whole year so you don't need to send me money any more.
When the mother heard the words she burst out crying.

***
Alexander began his second year in a good mood. He had had a good rest in September. There were surprisingly many mushrooms that autumn. Almost every day he walked to the wood to the places familiar to him since childhood. He brought home about five hundred or even more ceps. Nowadays even a dozen of porcini seems to be a piece of luck to those who like gathering mushrooms. In 1960s mushrooms were abundant. There was no lack of cranberries, cowberries and blackberries that are nowhere to be found at present. One should not reproach nature as it is not to blame for anything. We've drained marshes and upset the climate balance. Rains are brought only by cyclones from the Baltic Sea at present. They are always cold. In the past the climate was influenced by evaporations of marshes. Thunderstorms were frequent. They poured the soil generously with warm water. The water evaporated immediately and thus created favorable conditions for wood flora. No wonder there is the saying, 'It mushrooms up' although the saying is outdated. Another reason is barbaric attitude to forest reaches. They don't pick up berries any more, they rake them with a specially designed metal device. People don't cut mushrooms carefully. They uproot them destroying mushroom spawn. If things go on like this very soon porcini could be found only in pictures or in the museum…
Studies went on well. Owing to his diligence Rudnev quickly removed the gap in knowledge typical of country school leavers as compared to those from the city and took a solid lace in the student elite. Even his outward appearance changed. He acquired some bearing. Now there were no traces left of the awkward and a bit clumsy country guy who came to enter the university. Fashionable clothes made him look like a respectable dandy. Now Alexander could go to the most prestige parties without any uneasiness. Still, he wasn't keen on dancing, just as before. This displeased many girls of the same year. One of the girls who had an eye on him once told, 'Sasha, you might be going to live a lonely life. There would be no one to give you some water before your death.'
-Are you sure I'm going to feel like drinking some water at the time?
Nevertheless, he was caught by love quite unexpectedly. One day he entered a girls' room and was literally dumbfounded. He saw a girl of marvelous beauty sitting on the bed at the window. Her appearance staggered Alexander so much he got confused, turned red and even forgot the reason why he came. The girls started to talk to him vying with each other while he stood shifting from one foot to the other and didn't hear anything. He caught his breath only after he came to his room. He had never experienced anything of the kind before. Somewhere at heart there emerged a source of unusual warmth. Languor spread all over his body. The problems that had seized him recently moved somewhere far away. Alexander tried to pull himself together and concentrate his attention on studies but his unruly thoughts returned persistently to Tamara. This was the name of the girl that fascinated him.
Tamara gladly agreed to a date. It was a gloomy autumn day. They roamed about Gorky Park. They were so much carried away by their talk they didn't notice nasty drizzle. It seemed to Alexander he had known the girl for a long time. He made a declaration of love several days later. He was happy to hear that Tamara had also fallen in love with him at first sight.
They got married several months later. Parents of both Alexander and Tamara gave their blessing to the marriage though Tamara's mother who didn't conceal that she liked Alexander very much said half in jest, 'You're such a handsome man. You might have found yourself a better girl!'
Alexander was confused though he understood his would-be mother-in-law was simple enhancing her daughter's reputation. No mother is likely to acknowledge her daughter is worse than the bride groom. He returned the compliment to please the woman, 'Even if I walked round the world I wouldn't find a better girl!' This seemed to go down a treat…
Rudnev's authority at the university was so great that the local trade union committee gave the young family a separate room at the hostel. The room was tiny, about six square meters. There used to be a closet there. Nevertheless, this was a separate room! It was beyond students' widest dreams. Before they built a cooperative apartment the Rudnevs got on the property ladder at the hostel twice.
Family life imposed additional troubles on Alexander. He was well aware a new flat was not going to fall from heaven. There was also no counting on parents' help so he made up his mind to do some unofficial construction job every summer to have enough money for a cooperative apartment by the time they graduated from university. A three-room flat cost six or seven thousand rubles. It was also problematic to enter a cooperative. There was a sort of underground business in Minsk when people had to give a bribe to be put on the list. As far as this problem was concerned Alexander had every reason to count on university's application…

***
After his second year was over Rudnev entered a team that headed for Karelia. The team leader studied at another department. He found Alexander himself.
-They say you earned good money in Turukhan Area last year?
-Yes, it did happen.
-Let's go to Petrozavodsk. There's an agreement with a logging enterprise to build a logging workshop. I have been there once. The people there are very decent. We're going to earn about two thousand each.
-You must be joking!
-No, I'm not! You'll make sure yourself. I absolutely need the experienced guys like you.
At the Petrozavodsk logging enterprise the students were put on the job as Ukrainian collective farmers. A collective farm from Kirovograd region logged wood there. It was unprofitable to bring workers from Ukraine so contract laborers turned out to be most welcome. The situation promised the students extra earnings.
They had to work in the conditions very much similar to those they had in the Turukhan Area. Only the midnight sun period saved the situation. They had a rest in the daytime when the heat was unbearable while at night they sweat their guts out. The team leader turned out to be a real crook. He was missing all the time. He came to the construction project under the sauce, as a rule, and gave the students a dressing down.
-Why do you work like this? You're real idlers! Have a look at how you should work!
He worked with a spade for a couple of minutes and then withdrew leaving behind a trail of alcohol smell. Rudnev had to take upon himself responsibilities of the leader unofficially. The students obeyed him implicitly. They saw he knew his job and never posed as a boss.
They built the logging workshop on time. The kolkhoz representative liked their work but he upset the students.
-Guys, you'll have to go to the kolkhoz to fetch the money by yourselves. This can be done no other way.
Just think - to go by yourselves! Firstly, this was a long distance away. Secondly, they had to fetch the sum that was over fifty thousand rubles. One could buy a dozen of 'Moskvich' cars with the money. Even the smallest sums were fetched from a bank under escort while they were to go across the whole country carrying them literally in their pockets. Yet, nothing could be done. The team leader made up his mind to go with Rudnev. The rest of the team members had to finish the work and wait for their return.
They got to Kirovograd safe. They contacted the kolkhoz from there. When they arrived at the kolkhoz all payrolls had already been prepared. They loaded their bag with the money and started thinking how to get back. There wasn't any bus service to the district center. It was beyond their widest dreams to hire a taxi as there weren't any taxis to be found in rural areas at the time. They tried to hire a private motorist and to pay him good money but there turned out to be only two cars in the village that weren't in running order. They had to get to the highway on foot. They were making their way through the corn field looking around anxiously. A lot of collective farmers saw them loading their bag with the money. There were three guys among them that seemed suspicious to Rudnev. They were real mugs! They watched the students and exchanged words with each other.
When they came to the farm road they saw 'Volga' raising dust at a distance. They thumbed a lift. When the car slowed down near them they regretted it. There were the three men in the car they were extremely unwilling to see. What shall they do? Shall they run? They will be caught. Shall they refuse? They'll be made to get into the car. They had to get into. They drove in silence. Alexander squeezed the bag firmly.
-Well, chap, why do you keep embracing the bag as if it were your bride? Relax. By the way, what are you carrying in the bag? Let me have a look!
-Guys, it's none of your business what we're carrying. We don't look into your pockets. Just in case you display excessive curiosity I warn you I've got something for you that you are sure to dislike.
The man who asked the question looked at Rudnev attentively. He must have believed the undisguised threat so he didn't continue the talk. When they got out of the car Rudnev could hardly contain shiver.
-Let's sit down for a while. The danger seems to be over! If there happened to be criminals instead of the guys it would have turned out badly for us. They would have hit us on the head with a pry bar and that would have been the last that was ever seen of us.
In Kirovograd Rudnev had to experience some more moments of anxiety. There turned out to be no free places in the waiting room of the airport. When the traffic controller who was their country fellowman found out the students were from Byelorussia he allowed them to stay the night in the flight hall. Alexander took off his jacket with a sigh of relief, put it onto the bag and hurried to the wash basin. He wanted to wash off the dust quickly. The team leader remained to watch the bag. When Alexander was over some minutes later he found only his jacket left. There was neither the bag nor the team leader there. Rudnev felt a wave of cold. 'He must have run away with the money! Now I should go on a wild-goose chase. He'll pocket the money and will accuse me of stealing it. I won't be able to prove anything!' He darted out into the corridor and looked around feverishly. He saw the team leader who stood at the airport exit thinking about something. Rudnev jumped to him and snatched the bag out of his hands.
'Have you gone crazy?' the team leader expressed his indignation.
-Well, lad, don't trifle with this any more. We agreed you were going to wait for me. If you do this once again you'll have only yourself to blame. I'll crush you like a bug. Your own mother wouldn't recognize you.'
-Do you suspect me of planning to steal the money? Me?
-Stop screaming. You won't impress me. Our guys entrusted us with bringing the money so we should rule out even the slightest fortuity. Who knows, someone might have snatched the bag out of your hands.
The cashiers were met with joy. The logging enterprise didn't let them down. Every member of the team was paid 2200 rubles. The team leader tried to ask for a bigger share but he was quickly brought down a peg or two.
On their way back to Minsk they had to stay the night in Leningrad once again. It was dangerous to stay at the airport so Rudnev arranged to rent a local restaurant for the night. When the manager of the restaurant learnt the students are ready to pay a hundred rubles each he agreed at once to hang out the doorplate saying the restaurant was closed for a special event. He had never had any receipts of the kind. Alexander asked two guys who were well familiar to him and who were not keen on alcohol not to touch a drop and to guard…

***
Those who have never done any unofficial construction job will never be able to understand how hard, backbreaking and dangerous the work was and how difficult 'fast money' came to students. They could overstrain themselves, remain cripples or even disappear without leaving a trace at the vast expanses of the North. They were within a hairbreadth of death during their journey beyond the Arctic Circle.
This happened in the fifth year. The classes were over. Alexander Rudnev and four of his friends had had their pre-graduation practical training and handed in the works to their scientific advisers in April so they ventured to do a fifth unofficial construction job. They literally came to the edge of the world, to the village of Zasheyek that was three hundred kilometers away from Murmansk. The manager of the logging enterprise welcomed them.
-If you build a hostel I won't treat you badly. I have to warn you there are no ready-made construction materials. There are old deserted barracks on the opposite bank of the lake Imandra. You should take the barracks to pieces, transport and built anew.
The barracks turned out to be about half a century old. Despite this, the larch logs preserved by bitter frosts looked as if they had just been cut down.
The work turned out to be not as simple as they thought it to be at first. It goes without saying it is easier to dismantle than to build. Still, one should try to pull huge logs by hand without any auxiliaries. To build the foundation in the permafrost is even more difficult. Concrete isn't fit for this. They had to mark seventy points for consolidation marks, to burn fires in the places to thaw out the ground and then to hollow out holes almost a meter deep by crowbars and picks. Then they placed round timber into the holes that were used as the base to put piles for the first row of beams on.
In April frosts are infrequently over thirty degrees below zero in Zapolyarye. The bright sun dazzled the eyes though its rays weren't warm. The only thing that saved them was the fact it was always calm there.
They were hardly able to drag their feet along by evening. To ease up they drank a glass of vodka and crashed out. Somebody started grumbling, 'Why should we go as far as this? Couldn't we find another place to earn money?'
'We're going to be paid one thousand rubles each at the very least. Where can you earn the money like this in three weeks?' Rudnev soothed his friends. The trip to the place was his idea.
When they were taking the barracks to pieces one day they came across a scrap of an old newspaper that had grown yellow with time.
-Guys, it is in Byelorussian!
-Will you show it?
They examined it as if it were a miracle, a piece of news from recent past. Judging by the printed, it came out either in the late 1920s or the early 1930s. It might have been 'Zvyazda' or 'Chirvonaya Zmena'. It should have been brought by a dispossessed kulak who was exiled there. Thousands of them were brought to the place during the collectivization period.
'I wish I knew what happened to the man. He might still be living here!' Alexander pondered.
'He must have become a hardened criminal. All of them finish their lives this way,' someone specified.
Finally the day they had to be paid came. The head of the logging enterprise was pleased with the work of the students but when they hinted they would like to be paid a thousand rubles each he flew into a rage.
-Loggers who never budge from taiga and have dry rations are not paid as much as this while you've lived in a warm place and had meals at the canteen!
Their timid objections infuriated him even more.
-You're Komsomol members. There must be some communists among you. Yet, you behave as if you were some impudent self-seekers! I'll inform the university about your behavior. Let them think who they train.
Rudnev finally managed to stifle the serious dispute. As a result, each of them was paid 689 rubles. It was less than they expected but much more they could earn at home even if working as hard as this. By the way, they had to hurry. Their absence must have been noticed already. Their long absence without a good cause could turn out badly!
They reached Kandalaksha quickly and safe but they had to get stuck there for almost half a day as the train for Murmansk came only late at night. They decided to have a meal at a restaurant. There were no spare places there but they thrust ten rubles to the big guy at the door and entered freely. There happened to be a spare table there. If only they had known what kind of folks they were going to see at the restaurant they would have done with a slice of sausage. One could easily detect former prisoners by their red faces. There was a persistent stink of alcohol there and the bluish smoke of cigarettes was curling like fog. The waiter ran around the tables nonstop and didn't pay the slightest attention to the gestures and remarks of the students.
-Guys, let's make off! I don't like the place at all. We may get into a pretty mess here.
Alexander's apprehensions turned out to be just. They saw a big guy waddling to their table.
-Chaps, don't they want to serve you? We'll put things in order right now! Waiter!
The waiter ran up to the table.
-How may I serve you?
-Serve some food to the guys. Don't you see their mouths are watering? They're our guests. Where are you from, lads?
-We're from Minsk.
The guy turned to the waiter, 'Is everything clear?'
-Yes, it is.
-Then hurry up.
The big guy eyed Rudnev from head to foot and said in a conspiratorial voice, 'Do you see the girl over there, in the corner?'
-I do. Why?
-She's had an eye on you. She wants to communicate with you.
-I have no time left. The train is coming soon. Maybe some other time.
-Chap, I see you haven't understood anything. You'd better do what you're told to, or you'll never leave the place.
He made a meaningful gesture holding his hand at his neck, and then he left waddling being sure no one was going to disobey him. He approached the table where the girl was sitting. She was about twenty five. She was a beautiful and slim blonde. She kept staring at the students.
-What shall we o now?
-It would be a good idea to take to our heels!
-It's too late I'm afraid. He's warned us we're going to have troubles otherwise.
-Well, Sasha, you should go. There's no other way out. You'll drink brotherhood with her, and things might turn out well.
-Do you think she's calling me just to have a drink with her? I wonder if she may ask something else.
-Well, then, why not please the lady. Did you read Maupassant's 'Dumpling'?
-I'm not Dumpling. My wife is near her time. How shall I look her in the face afterwards?
It was clear the sluggishness of the students began to bother the hosts. The big guy half-rose to get to the table once again but the girl gestured him to sit down. To all appearances, she must have been one of a kind. It might well be so she was the leader of a local gang. Alexander realized he had no other way out so he asked his friends not to take any actions and came up to the insistent strangers.
The girl turned out to be more attractive than she seemed to be from a distance. Her eyebrows were neatly penciled and her lips were covered with expensive lipstick. She was a bit tipsy. Her eyes were caustic but not malicious. She asked Alexander to take a sit and glanced over him in an appraising manner, just like merchants do at the market when they examine a horse that caught their fancy.
-Do you fancy me?
-Hmm… we aren't even acquainted.
-Let's, then… Tatyana.
-Alexander.
-Let's go!
-Where to?
-You'll see.
She led Rudnev to a small room located near the restaurant. To all appearances, the room was a kind of her den. There was a small sofa, two armchairs and a coffee table with magazines on it there. A 'Playboy' with a very outright photo on its cover caught Alexander's eyes. There were curtains with frivolous patterns on the windows. This was a kind of a cozy net where one could have a good time without bothering about drinks and snacks as everything was quite near.
The girl took out of the cupboard two savings bank books neatly wrapped up into a handkerchief.
-They say you're from Minsk. Are you a student?
-Yes, I'm going to graduate from university.
-I'm a graduate of Moscow Technological Institute. I was placed on a job here. I got accustomed to the place. Are you married?
Rudnev hesitated. He didn't know what to answer. The girl took the lead over him.
-I see you're not because you aren't wearing a wedding ring. All married men wear them now because it's all the rage now. Yet, there must be a girl who yielded to you on demand to keep you and who is afraid now, poor thing, you may leave her. You surely will. The studs like you don't need a sitting duck; they need a real woman… Just like me. I'm attractive and I'm in the money. Have a look!
Rudnev stole a glance at the unfolded savings books. The sum of about ten thousand rubles was deposited at each of them.
-You see, this is just the beginning. I am quite influential. Another two or three years and I'm going to have a hundred thousand. Stay here! I've fancied you. We'll live in perfect harmony. You'll never have any regrets. We'll build a luxurious flat and buy a car. We'll have holidays at resorts… Do you happen to know how these lords of the underworld woo me? It's unbearable. It's enough to give them a wink and they will carry me in their arms. However, I don't need any of these stinkers. They'll never get me. Not for all the tea in China. I'm ready to put out to you right now.
Rudnev had a reputation for being a handsome man among girls at university. The term 'sex bomb' wasn't current at the time. Before he got married some passionate damsels made rather transparent hints about sex to him when they were at parties or at dance. He always laughed their suggestions away. Now the situation turned out to be much more complicated. Alexander thought feverishly how to avoid games with the woman who was imposing her love on him. He regarded the thought of pleasing her as inconceivable.
When Rudnev returned to the restaurant arm in arm with the damsel his friends gave a sigh of relief. They endured stress during the time he was away.
Alexander chose the only possible way out of the dangerous situation where he found himself against his own free will. He knew how to drink. He knew how to drink a lot without losing control of himself. In case of emergency he made use of this more that once.
Any time the unofficial construction job was over and some managers of the works were unwilling to close the work order and were trying to rob the students blind he made them drunk and signed all the necessary documents. He winked at his friends who understood what his plan was, poured a faceted glass of vodka and required others to follow his example. Then he rose up and made a short inflammatory speech.
-I'm glad fate has thrown us together. Just like a ship that got caught by a storm I might find a safe place here, too…
Rudnv glanced at Tatyana and made sure she was listening to him with bated breath.
-All of us are sailors by nature. We're looking for a safe place where loyal companions in life will be waiting for us, so let's drink to the navy!
The genuine thoughts of former prisoners were as far away from the navy as heaven and earth. Nevertheless, they liked Rundev's simple toast. Each of them dreamed to find a safe place and a loyal companion in life. Their brain clouded by alcohol drew tempting pictures they drank to.
About an hour and a half was left before the departure of the train. This was not much time to make drunk the bulls like these. Alexander poured one glass after another, drained them and took almost nothing with vodka. He knew he would manage to drink two or even three bottles of vodka, though any other student from his team would fall in a dead faint. Luckily, everybody's attention was drawn to Alexander, so his friends didn't drink much.
'Isn't that super!' the big guy who threatened them admired. 'He's one of us through and through. Let me give you a kiss!'
He reached to Rudnev over the table, overturned a bottle and spilled vodka on Tatyana's skirt. She gave him a slap in the face.
-You're loaded, son of a bitch!
-Sasha, I'll be back in a minute.
The girl headed for the familiar room staggering.
Fortune evidently smiled on the students. One couldn't find a better moment to escape. The train was to arrive at the station any time now. Rudnev made another toast, gave his friends a sign and rose up.
'Where are you going?' the big guy became alerted.
'To take a leak!' Alexander whispered him in the ear.
'I see!' the big guy was glad for some strange reason. 'To take a leak! Chop-chop!' his head collapsed suddenly into a plate of salad…
The students were relieved only when Kandalaksha was behind. Still, they started every time the carriage door creaked. It seemed to them they were chased. Rudnev was the only one who didn't pay any attention to this as he slept the sleep of the innocent. The monstrous dose of alcohol did its part. The guys who finally sobered up due to the stress looked at him and joked, 'He's sleeping like a log while the poor damsel must be tearing her hair. She let such a handsome man slip!'
-Do you think he had her or not?
-Have you gone mad? You say as if you didn't know Sashka and his principles!
They arrived in Minsk on May, 1 in the morning. There were several days left before the study was over…
Just after the holidays were over Rudnev was called to the dean's office. The first thing he thought about was the dean must have found out about their trip. Although he knew Savochkin would understand everything and forgive him he was still extremely uncomfortable. Yet, the talk turned to completely different things.
-I have looked through your mark book. To be given degree with distinction you have to retake one exam. I've arranged with the teacher who thinks highly of you and doesn't object to your repeating the examination. You deserve degree with distinction. The secretary of the party committee is of the same opinion.
The dean saw Rudnev was a bit confused and he added, 'I understand you're thinking about other things at the moment. Defense of your graduation project is at hand. Besides, your baby is due any day. You shouldn't worry, anyway. The exam will be formal.'
Rudnev was so excited he felt a lump in his throat.
-Pyotr Zakharovich… You can't imagine how much I appreciate the words. I'll never forget your concern for me. But… I'm not going to repeat the exam…
-Why?
-It's not honest. How shall I look in the face of the students of the same year after this?
Savochkin wanted to object but he was well aware Rudnev never acted against his conscience so he approached Alexander and embraced his shoulders.
-I didn't have any doubts you were going to answer this way. I'm glad for you… sonny…
Rudnev didn't hesitate for long what should be the theme of his graduation paper. He had always been interested in the history of Comintern. There were a lot of controversies between the parties though they professed the same principles. Alexander who always liked to come to the truth looked through the available literature and talked to the CPSU veterans who could throw light on some mysterious facts. His scientific advisor was a secretary for ideology of the Minsk party committee. During the first talk with Rudnev he was sincerely surprised by Alexander's knowledge in the sphere and the boldness the student displayed when he judged the conflicts between Stalin, Jopseph Broz Tito and leaders of some other parties.
Your aspiration to eliminate white spots in the history of this international organization appeals to me. Yet, even research institutions have been unable to do this so far. That is why try to avoid any definite appraisals.
The warning of the scientific advisor was clear to Rudnev. Nevertheless, his speech at the defense caused a commotion. Although graduation projects are considered to be research work that should contain some new facts and their authors have to draw their own conclusions in fact everything boils down to committing to paper some familiar information, as a rule. Both writers of university degree theses and scientific advisors are well aware that debates with prominent scholars can be feigned. Yet, by some tacit consent they follow the rules of the game and are content with formal remarks. Rudnev resolutely did away with these conventions. He tore to tatters the authors of some works who merely retold some generally known facts. Moreover, he didn't do this on his bare word. He supported his criticism by the information he obtained nobody knew where. They gossiped about the extraordinary nature of his graduation project at the department long before the defense. Even lecturers from other sub-departments came to listen to him. They were amazed and whispered to each other waiting for the verdict of the scientific advisor.
The secretary of the party committee found himself in a delicate situation. As a scientific advisor he was responsible for the content of the graduation project. To support the student meant to state he shared his views. To dissociate himself meant to recognize he let things rip. However, as an experienced party worker he managed to find the golden mean.
I am both delighted and upset by the speech of the student. I am glad because he treated this complicated topic in a grave and thorough way that is not typical of most students. This characterizes him as a communist and member of the university party committee to his advantage. I also don't reproach him for boldness he displays when reasoning about historic facts we know little about. Adherence to their principles, honesty and frankness of opinion has always distinguished true communists who serve the party causes by the courage of their convictions from those who joined the party for career reasons. Before the defense I asked for the personal records of the communist Rudnev at the district party committee. I must admit there was a line in his application to the party that won over me. He wrote 'I would like to make use of the only privilege of a communist, i.e. to be the first to march into battle.' Now I understand the words were written in all sincerity. Yet, there was one thing that upset me about the speech, namely, the recklessness Alexander Rudnev displayed debating with his opponents. I attribute this to youthful maximalism. I give the highest mark to the graduation project of Alexander Rudnev.
There were several days left before job placement. The member of the party committee professor Mikhail Yephimovich Shklyar was the first to talk about the matter.
-taking into account your inclination to research work I advise you to remain at the sub-department as an assistant. Think this offer over.
This talk shaped Rudnev's further destiny. Shortly before this he had been offered the position of a political supervisor in a military unit abroad. There were several units to choose from. Yet, Alexander chose a more difficult way, i.e. to lecture at the university.
He still remembers his study at university. Alexander recollects with some reverential awe those professors and associate professors who exercised strong influence over him as a scholar and a citizen, among them there were L.S Abetsedarsky, V.M. Sikorsky, I.O. Tsaryuk, E.A. Vasilevskaya, L.M. Shneyerson, M.G. Yeliseyev, G.S. Astashonok, V.Z. Protchenko, V.F. Protsko, L.P. Maximova and others.

 

WE ARE ALL IN GOD'S HANDS

Alexander was sleeping the sleep of the innocent with his arms spread wide on the bed. He dreamed about his native place Rudna.
It was a summer day. Thunderstorm had just been over but it was still raining. There was a rainbow in the sky. The brightest of its layers rested right against their house. Naughty boys rolled up trousers above their knees and were running along puddles. His mother who was still young, with a brightly colored kerchief on her head, stood on the porch and reprimanded him gently, 'Sasha, you're grown up but you behave as if you were a boy!' He laughed and responded, 'Mum, I'm not grown up. It just seems to you!' He went on jumping in the puddle. Splashes flew to sides and fell onto his mother's skirt that she usually wore on holidays. This made her angry. She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and started to slap on his cheeks….
-Take this, and that!
Alexander opened his eyes. His wife was slapping him on his cheeks.
-Wake up, will you? It seems to me it has already begun!
-Has it?
He jumped out of bed and began to put on his trousers feverishly jumping on his leg and unable to get into the trouser leg. -Just a moment… Wait a little!
He rushed into the bathroom and rinsed his face with cold water. He imagined taking his wife to maternity hospital more than once but now he lost his head. He was shivering and his body was covered with perspiration.
-Just a moment. Everything will be all right… Wait a little!
He carefully took his wife by the arm, led her out of the front door and headed for the tram stop absent-mindedly. His wife's moan brought him to his senses.
-Oh my God, what a fool I am! Stay here, I'll be back in a moment.
He dashed to the street. As ill luck would have it there was no taxi in sight. Cars swept past and nobody paid any attention to his desperate gestures to stop. Finally, a car slowed down.
-Lad, will you give us a lift to the hospital? It's near here, in Orlovskaya Street. I'll pay as much as you say. My wife is going to give birth to a baby!
When they arrived he carefully helped his wife to get out of the car and gave the driver ten rubles. The driver looked into his purse anxiously.
-I have no change.
-Never mind the change. Thank you for coming to our help.
The driver removed his hand.
-I don't need money. This is just my present to you…
Alexander phoned to the maternity hospital every half an hour. He was ready to stay day and night sitting on a stool at the door of his wife's ward to be the first to here the cry of his child. Nowadays father's presence in the ward in time of delivery is a common practice that is encouraged in every possible way while at the time they chucked him out of hospital.
-Young man, this is maternity hospital. It's not a railway station.
The doctor looked at Alexander's face that was white with anxiety and softened her tone.
-Is this your first child?
-Yes, it is.
-Don't worry. Pregnancy went its usual way. There should be no complications. You'd better go home and have a good sleep. You're going to have more worries now. Who do you expect?
The question he asked himself almost a thousand times embarrassed Rudnev.
-A boy… And a girl…
The doctor laughed.
-Your wife is a happy one. Some fathers almost give an ultimatum to their wives. You either give birth to a son or don't be back home at all! They make complaints to doctors why we didn't provide for the birth of an heir. I see any child will be desired to you. I don't promise you any twins as this is a rare occasion. However, you are sure to have either a boy or a girl…
To be honest he also wanted to have a boy but he didn't confess his wife to this. He was afraid she would be upset if she gave birth to a girl and may have problems with feeding the child as a result.
Two days later, on June 21 1973 the nurse who recognized his voice said, 'Don't worry, Rudnev. Your wife has given birth to a child.'
-Is it a boy or a girl? How much does the baby weigh? How does my wife feel? When can I come to see her?
He blurted out these questions without waiting for an answer. This made the nurse angry.
-This isn't an information desk. Come here and find everything out!
A lot of people crowded at the information desk in the maternity hospital. Alexander elbowed his way through the crowd, looked over somebody's shoulder and asked, 'Will you have a look who Rudneva gave birth to?'
-Rudneva? Twins… Two boys.
Alexander couldn't believe his ears. Nothing had hinted they were going to have twins. His wife gained usual weight. The doctor even thought they were going to have a girl. Boys usually give more troubles to women in childbirth. And now he is said they have two boys. His name was frequently confused by ear, so Alexander got closer to the information desk and asked, 'Will you check once again, please? It seemed to me you've confused something.'
An old lady looked at his red face and moved her head in a reproachful way.
-You even don't know who's been born. You're drunk. What do you say your name is? Ruzhnev?
-No, Rudnev… There's a'd' in the middle.
-Rudnev… Well, really! I have confused. You've got a daughter. She weighs three kilos seven hundred and sixty grams and she's fifty six centimeters tall.
A shadow ran over Alexander's face. The nurse noticed this and she said reproachfully, 'What ungrateful folk men are!'
By the time his wife was discharged Rudnev managed to control his feelings. He didn't hesitate long how to call his daughter. He liked the name 'Inessa' very much. This was the name of Lenin's beloved - Inessa Armand.
After childbirth his wife developed some problems with health so he didn't move a step away from her, guessed and anticipated her every wish. At night he woke up even if he heard the slightest rustle in the pram. He changed her diapers, warmed infant food, rocked the baby to sleep and sang her lullabies. Alexander's coarse voice changed out of all recognition at the moments. It turned so tender it reminded of a child's voice. In the daytime he washed diapers, went to baby kitchen and to shops and tidied up the house. When he had some spare moments he surrounded himself with books in the kitchen that was used as a study and got ready for the coming school year.
The birth of his daughter distracted Rudnev for a while from the thoughts about his work but as September drew near his anxiety increased. An assistant is charged with conducting seminars. To work full time he has to teach at different departments after lectures of prominent scholars who are professors and associate professors. Each of them has his own manner and approach to giving information. One has to know all this as seminars should continue lectures in a natural manner.
Rudnev didn't worry about his knowledge. He studied the CPSU history in every detail. He even read Brief Survey of history of the National Communist Party of Bolsheviks that came out under Stalin. In Khrushchev's epoch the book was withdrawn from libraries as ideologically harmful. He managed to swap it for some fashionable detective. Alexander's retentive memory kept a lot of dates and facts so that even the trickiest questions couldn't puzzle him. The only thing that embarrassed him was the fact there was practically no age difference between him and most students. At the Department of Journalism where they preferred those who had some work experience some of his first-year students were even older than he was. Moreover, they selected mainly ambitious and sharp-tongued people who didn't quail at teachers and who could make young assistants, especially girls, hopping mad by their jokes. Alexander knew a lot would depend on the first meeting so he carefully prepared for it.
Everything happened just like in the popular TV film 'The Big Break.' Rudnev entered the auditorium right after the bell and found a clamoring crowd there. Although first year students had spent a month together at farm work somewhere in the rural area they didn't know each other quite well. They were not surprised at strangers. Children of high-ranking parents that were quite many at the Department of Journalism managed to avoid farm work so they joined only now. Rudnev must have been mistaken for one of them. Only a guy in a soldier's blouse responded to his greeting. 'High! Chaps, our numbers have grown,' he cried addressing his fellow students but they were busy with their matters and didn't react to the phrase.
-Haven't you been to farm work? Were you ill? Do you live in Minsk?
The talkative students showered him with questions without paying attention that Rudnev didn't respond to them.
-Take a seat beside me, the place is vacant; we'll get to know each other better.
Rudnev kept standing at the board waiting for the students to calm down. No one still paid any attention to him. Finally, one of the students remembered the bell had gone a long time before.
-Well, lads, the teacher is late. Fifteen minutes are over so we may beat it.
'I'm here, by the way!' Rudnev said in a loud voice.
The students looked at him with surprise.
'Who are you?' asked a student who looked about thirty.
-I am the teacher who you think is late.
Somebody gave a whistle of amazement. They started to take their seats noisily. Girls started to tidy their hair hastily and to put on lipstick examining the new teacher.
-He's so young!
-And handsome at this!
-Excuse me, are you married?
Girls started giggling. In their opinion, the undisguised impudence like this should have embarrassed the teacher. However, he only smiled.
-I am. And I have a daughter who's been born recently.
The student who asked the question sighed. 'Why do handsome men like these get married so early?'
-There's nothing strange about this. They do so not to let slip the beautiful girls like you…
The students liked Rudnev's reaction. The fact the young teacher hadn't got embarrassed and hadn't flown off the handle indicated he could be got along with.
Alexander was pleased to note he had successfully beaten off the first psychological attack. He waited for the students to finally calm down and laid out on the table materials he prepared for the seminar.
-Now, as far as you don't have any more questions to ask I suggest finishing the press conference. If any questions happen to appear later you should ask them in writing. Now let's get back to the subject.
A student who had been watching everything that went on in the classroom apathetically didn't quite like Rudnev's tone and gasped with surprise.
-Do you consider us to be like mules?
The girl sitting at the first desk, a daughter of an outstanding journalist who wrote for a central newspaper, who kept vanishing her nails with an expensive vanish turned to the student, 'What yokel you are! The teacher didn't mean to offend you.'
Rudnev approached the girl.
-Thank you for helping me. Now, Novitskaya, I ask you to be through with vanishing your nails. Let's begin our seminar.
The student looked at Rudnev with surprise.
-Do you happen to know my father?
-I haven't had the honor to get acquainted with your father so far. I just visited the office of the head of studies and looked through the personal records of every student in the group there.
This was another shrewd move. Rudnev had to conduct seminars in fifteen groups but he knew almost every of his three hundred students by sight and unmistakably addressed them by name.
The skills of public social work Alexander has acquired in the army and at university, as well as his sense of humor, enabled him to establish good relations both with the so called gallery where mainly those who were content with a 'three' belonged, as well as with the pretentious elite. His students like the fact he avoided the lecturing manner many young teacher are given to. When these teachers place a barrier between themselves and their students they protect themselves from questions that could reveal some gaps in their knowledge. Rudnev, on the contrary, welcomed discussions and never positioned himself as the ultimate truth. He didn't require any strict adherence to subordination. At the same time, he never stooped to chummy manners. During the break he could treat a guy to a cigarette in the smoking room but five or ten minutes later he would give the same guy a good dressing down for his poor answer. Naturally, he looked a chicken against the background of such lecturers like professors Ivan Zhoukovsky and Vasiliy Protsko. Still, the students took him for an equal to these men.
Rudnev's earnings as an assistant were scanty but he had to work wholeheartedly. When teaching methods specialists planned lectures and seminars they tried to create the most favorable conditions for teachers who had an academic degree and work experience. Assistants usually had to conduct classes in the morning. It took him forty minutes by public transport to get fro Zelyony Loug where the Rudnevs rented a flat to Lenin Square. True, this was in case buses and trolley buses went regularly. In winter due to traffic jams the schedule almost always ruined. Alexander had to leave home long before the classes in order not to be late. On the way to university he took his daughter to day nursery. Sometimes he came back home after midnight. The last class at the evening department that went to him, as a rule, started at 21.40. He filled the gaps between lectures with work at the library.
When he was choosing the theme of his thesis he almost quarreled with his scientific advisor professor Shklyar who flatly rejected Rudnev's suggestions.
-It is beyond any doubts that Comintern's history is important to understanding the nature of present-day relations in workers' and communist movement. However, it is very remotely connected with Byelorussia. Our country's history has so many white spots it would be a good idea to deal with them. One day our descendants will bring us to book for our indifference. Will you get down to research of Byelorussian Communist Party's activity concerning developing heavy industry? Our country turned into an assembly shop in an unprecedented time. I dare say this was the time of postwar economic dislocation. One is unlikely to find in Europe any gigantic enterprises similar to Minsk Tractor Plant and Minsk Automobile Plant.
-Mikhail Yephimovich! I am not the one with a background in engineering. I'm not familiar with the subject. Besides, I think the subject to be boring!
-No problem. You'll cope. As far as 'boring' is concerned… Scientific research is not the same as flirtation with a girl. If you choose the theme you'll defend with flying colors. It may well be so if you choose the subject of Comintern you'll have to rewrite your work many times and you may even fail. If you agree to my suggestion you'll speak well of me many times afterwards.
It goes without saying the wise Shklyar turned out to be right. However, for Rudnev to deal with the subject he was not interested in was the same as to sleep with an unloved woman. He had to make himself make in archives, copy thousands of pages of decrees by the Central Committee and the Council of Ministers and to sift through newspapers that could help restore the atmosphere of the time.

***
Exhausting work was aggravated by poor economic conditions of the young family. His assistant salary was 105 rubles. His wife who was a postgraduate student was paid scholarship of 75 rubles. Alexander managed to earn about thirty or forty rubles teaching at preparation department. They had to pay 53 rubles for the flat they rented. As a result they had a bit over a hundred rubles left for everything altogether. One should remember he had to be dressed properly. A lecturer can't enter an auditorium wearing a suit with its sleeves patched. Besides, they had to provide for their daughter's needs. Their parents did their best to help. Rudnev's mother worked at a cattle farm until she was an extremely old age. Although her work was backbreaking she was paid very little for it. His parents could hardly make their ends meet. To support her son his mother grew her marvelous hair, then cut it and sold for chignons that were becoming fashionable at the time. Alexander found this out shortly before his mother's death. Rudnev got on very well with his wife's parents. His mother-in-law admired him and always admonished her daughter, 'You should obey Sasha and take care of him!' However, Alexander resorted to their parents' help only when they faced some stand-off. His pride prevented him from relying on parental support…
Both at the time he was young and now he is retired Alexander Rudnev bears his cross meekly. He doesn't complain about anything and always sets hopes upon God. When he hears students complaining about academic load that seems excessive to them he likes telling them a parable that imprinted itself on his soul in his childhood…
Two men walked side by side each of them bearing his own cross. The first one endured all hardships silently; the second one kept complaining and was always asking God, 'My Lord, you see it's more than I can bear. I am about to fall down. May I saw at least a small piece off my cross?'
-You may if you wish.
For some time the burden was light, then it seemed to the second man his cross turned too heavy to lift again, so he appealed to God over and over again. The Lord didn't object so the traveler kept on sawing off his cross. Finally, their path brought to a deep abyss. It was impossible both to jump over it and to walk round. There was no way back as death waited for them there. The first man threw his cross over the abyss and walked over it to the opposite side. The cross of the second man turned out to be too short…
A flat of their own was like an enticing star that flickered high in the skies. At the university they provided him with references so Rudnev managed to become a member of a housing cooperative. The receipt given after they paid their first installment that amounted to 3650 rubles is still kept in their home archives as if it was some holy relic. He collected the money doing some unofficial construction jobs. Besides, his wife's parents helped a bit.
It took a lot of time for their apartment to be built. The country suffered from lack of workforce. Means assigned for building were drawn slowly. Alexander came to Matusevicha Street where their block of flats was being built almost every weekend. He was happy to see a new floor appeared. When he saw the work was suspended he felt upset. Once, he risked his life and made his way to a three-room flat walking along the stairs that didn't even have any handrails. He looked inside the flat that seemed to be a magic palace to him although it had neither interior finish nor any windows.

***
One day a former fellow student encountered Alexander in the street and suggested dropping in at a cheap bar for a glass of beer.
-I wonder, Sasha, why you still lead a beggarly life? You were most promising among the students of our year. You had an opportunity to make a party career, to go abroad. You would now have a luxurious flat, a car and a dacha in a good place. Instead, you can hardly make both ends meet. Why do you need the thesis? After you defend it you'll be paid about two hundred rubles. Is this decent money?
-One may think they grow somewhere in a tree. I've always dreamed about research work, it's my vocation. That is why I refused to work at the district party committee. As far as the army is concerned I was fed up with it when I served there.
-Stop it! Vocation!.. You dreamed!.. I dreamed about entirely different things, too. Luckily, I came to my senses just in time. I work for security bodies and I don't regret my decision. I am paid good salary! I've got a flat in the center of Minsk! Take identification papers alone! When people see them they shudder. They are ready to fulfill ant request.
-I agree with you. The service is interesting. Yet, it requires a distinct way of thinking and a proper training. They don't accept men in the street there.
-They don't, indeed, but I may recommend you to Personnel Department. We need the people like you who are competent and intelligent. The only thing I advise you to do is to get rid of your na?ve ideas. Service in the state security system implies work with people, first of all. This is important work that requires responsibility. Your experience and length of service in the party suit in the best way possible. Shall I inform them about you?
Rudnev started thinking. Indeed, he had an idea about service in the state security system only from books and films. This was the time when the film 'Dead season' starring Rolan Bykov and Donatas Banyonis was released. It was followed by the TV serial 'Seventeen instants of spring' that caused a true commotion. When the serial was broadcast the whole country watched adventures of clever and charming Shtirlits with bated breath. Before falling asleep Alexander often imagined himself as an intelligent agent who carried out some important task abroad. This helped him forget about everyday problems. Yet, the service seemed to be inaccessible to an ordinary man.
The offer of his friend gave rise to a number of conflicting feelings. On the one hand, he was already aware of tragic fate of his grandfather Alexander Kirbay and the involvement of the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs in it. However, he didn't transfer the crimes committed by Lavrenty Beriya and his accomplices to those who currently worked for the Committee for State Security (the KGB). Every country has some gloomy pages in its history. Just like birthmarks, they remain on its body forever. They can't be stamped out. Germany plunged human kind into world war. However, we don't blame the whole of the German nation for the crimes committed by fascists. The same holds good as far as the KGB is concerned. Once there was time when it was turned into a punitive body. Those who worked for the organization then have hundreds of thousand or even millions of ruined lives on their conscience. However, the true predestination of the KGB was to protect interests of the state. Thus, how could service for it be considered as dishonorable one?
Alexander couldn't find an unambiguous answer to the question. That is why he asked his friend to give him some time to think.
The friend agreed, 'You may. Just don't think for too long. It may well be so I may leave for Moscow for some years in the nearest future to study there so I won't be able to help you then.'
A week later he phoned his friend and told he accepted his offer.
Week after week passed but he didn't receive any summons from the Personnel Department. His former fellow student soon left for Moscow so there was no one Rudnev could ask to make inquiries about the matter. Six months later he gave up all thoughts about it. He decided he must have been rejected by the Personnel Department.
They phoned him from the agency about a year later. A stranger suggested meeting at the caf? of the House of Arts in Engel's Square. He was familiar with the public catering place quite well since the time he was a student. Meals were quite decent and rather inexpensive there. Among visitors in the caf? one could frequently see famous poets and painters. Alexander had always been attracted by creative people, so when he had money he liked to drop in at the place to combine business with pleasure.
The stranger was already there. He noticed Alexander and gestured him to join. He shook his hand and offered Rudnev a coffee and some pastry as if he had guessed his liking for sweet stuff.
They talked for about an hour. The man didn't show any papers. He called himself Sergey Petrovich. He explained the delay was due to screening.
'You understand there should be no come-and-go-people in the organization,' he said.
The man's intent look embarrassed Alexander a little but he didn't look away.
'Yes… I see…' Rudnev confirmed he had some idea about the specific nature of the work ahead.
He found out afterwards that when they were making a judgment whether he was fit or not to serve for the security bodies they examined the whole of the family tree of the Kirbays and Rudnevs and inquired about relatives seven times removed who lived everywhere. They asked his acquaintances, too. They were interested about absolutely everything, including his views, likings, weaknesses, attitude to women and to alcohol, and other harmful and good habits and hobbies. It goes without saying they paid special attention to the fate of Alexander Kirbay. Only after they made sure Alexander was clean as a pin from ideological and moral point of view they gave the go-ahead to involve him in the work.
'You've been approved in Moscow. One of these days you'll be summoned to the Personnel Department to complete the formalities. In the meanwhile, you'd better not tell anyone about out talk,' the man warned him at the end of their talk.

***
After he completed all formalities at the Personnel Department and had all the interviews, Alexander Rudnev was received by head of the Department where he was to work. The man congratulated Rudnev on being appointed to the post and said, 'From now on you join the ranks of those who consider interests of the state to be more important than their own and who are even ready to sacrifice their lives when necessary. This is great honor and huge responsibility. Far from everyone is done the honor. It requires self-discipline because even the slightest blunder and thoughtlessness in operations work may cause irreparable damage to the country and have tragic influence upon the fate of your comrades. Your father…' The head of the Department made a barely perceptible pause as if thinking whether to say this or not and then he continued, '… and your grandfather were true communists. We trust you, as well. However, you should reaffirm the trust every day and every hour by your deeds. I hope you understand this.'
-I do, comrade general!
-Well, good luck, then!
Rudnev rose up, made a step and stopped hesitantly. The general noticed this.
-Do you want to ask something?
-You mentioned my grandfather Alexander Kirbay… I wonder if we could find out what happened to him. You see the memory of him is very dear to my family.
A shadow ran over the general's face.
-You are free, Rudnev!
When Alexander was about to touch the door handle he added, 'I'll try to help you. Yet, it's not quite the time for this now…Be sensible. Try not to make a real mess of things!'
When his colleagues found out that Rudnev was building a cooperative apartment they advised him to sell it as the committee solved housing problems of its workers quickly. However, Rudnev chose not to do this. He had always been extremely careful as far as these matters were concerned.
At first the work captivated Rudnev by its novelty. Economic conditions of his family improved significantly. Stability and career advancement were his prospects for the future. Nevertheless, he was a little bit worried when they planned to send him to Leningrad to study there as he didn't want his wife to shoulder all household problems. Luckily, heads of the department came to the conclusion his professional standard was decent enough so he didn't need any special training.
He sobered up quite quickly. His immediate duties reminded very little of his romantic ideas about work for the state security system. He carefully studies official materials to do with activities of the CIA, Mossad and other intelligence services. He knew that thousands of Soviet intelligence agents work abroad. They proudly mentioned their success without giving their names at party meetings in the department. From time to time they received sad news that some KGB and State Intelligence Service Department agents who worked under the cover of one mission or another had been disclosed. Yet, this had nothing to do with Rudnev's work. He was expected to observe moods of people and to notice the slightest deviations of their views from official ideology.
-You know university teachers quite well and you are considered to be quite at home there. Try to meet them frequently in informal surroundings for a cup of coffee or a glass of beer. Find those who'll inform you about morbid moods of certain teachers and students. You should reflect this in internal documents.
His colleagues who were more experienced gave him a tip about how to obtain the necessary result.
-You see, chap, there are quite many people in our country who are displeased with the Soviet public political system. Naturally, they're not going to shout about this in the street and stage demonstrations of protest. The lamebrains like these can be counted on the fingers of one hand. They reveal themselves, as a rule, during some extraordinary events. We could observe this in 1968 when Soviet troops entered Yugoslavia when a small group of anti-Soviets tried to hold a demonstration in Red Square. Thanks God, we don't have any dolts of the kind in Byelorussia.
From ideological point of view Byelorussia was considered one of the most problem-free republics in the USSR in 1970s. Its economy was developing steadily and people's welfare increased. Owing to adherence to his principles of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Byelorussia first secretary Pyotr Masherov all agricultural products left after the republic met the Government Purchases Plan remained in the country. Meat and milk products were abundant in shops. Moreover, these were of highest quality. Food additives in sausage that are considered to be one of its main components nowadays were a rare occasion at the time. They were used in exceptional cases only when the government took the decision. The term 'deficit' was used only as to fashionable imported clothes and footwear. Favorable social and economic conditions ruled out any ground for disturbances. Emigration of Jewish population was occasional feature at the time. Talks in kitchens, as a rule, limited to harmless political anecdotes and complaints about poor domestic service. However, the Committee of State Security couldn't confine itself to statement of positive facts alone. They would not be understood in Moscow. As a result, they had to deal with minor things and fashion them into serious operations work. One of the examples could be neutralization of morbid moods among students as far as the Byelorussian language was concerned.
In fact, the events didn't have any political overtones. Some students at the Department of Journalism most of whom came from rural areas where teaching at schools was conducted mainly in Byelorussian preferred to speak the language at the university, too. Nobody forbade this. Moreover, Byelorussian took the same place in the educational package at the Department as Russian did. Even those students who came to enter the BSU on target admission basis from Russia, Moldova and Ukraine were made to study Byelorussia. Professor Arkady Narkevich gave these students no quarter and made those for whom Byelorussian wasn't their native tongue copy for every class wordy articles from newspapers 'Zvyazda' and 'Chirvonaya Zmena'. As far as most students at the department spoke Russian the minority showed off their loyalty to 'the mother tongue'. Gifted students who had already managed to publish their first selection of poetry in the magazines 'Maladost' and 'Polymya' were especially notable for this. 'One day we'll arrive in Kremlin riding a white horse and will make all of you speak Byelorussia,' they used to address these jokes to their friends during the breaks. The harmless idle talk of students brought about preventive talks with KGB officials. The story could be over but some zealous officers at the department turned a commonplace story into serious political action.
Ten years later the returns of the story revealed themselves in a more dramatic way when students among whom were children of officials who were members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus and other high-ranking people organized a public organization 'Talaka' that promoted studies of Byelorussian history. They had get-togethers where they recited poetry, sang songs by Byelorussian authors and shared information about the Great Duchy of Lithuania derived from foreign sources. The department for propaganda of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus headed by Saveliy Pavlov at the time considered the initiative of the youth to be a sort of ideological infection. They published articles in the media that denounced 'subversive activities of students disposed to nationalism'. The publishing house 'Belarus' issued a book 'Fear the Greeks bearing gifts' where they theoretically substantiated struggle against nationalism. The Committee for the State Security of Byelorussia tried not to exaggerate the danger of these phenomena. However, as far as they faced double pressure, i.e. from their Moscow colleagues and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus, they had to carry out all types of preventive work and thus they infrequently they displayed real state of affairs in an overblown way.
Rudnev found this work burdensome. He dreamed about work related to exposing spies and carrying out risky tasks abroad. However, he actually had to deal with nitpicking.

***
In spring of 1976 XXV CPSU congress was held in Moscow. Besides five thousand delegates who represented all Soviet republics and most important regions of the Soviet Union, leaders of Communist Parties of dozens of foreign states participated in it. Shortly before the party forum Rudnev was called by head of the department. 'Might he show me the materials to do with my grandfather's criminal case?' the crazy thought flashed through his mind. However, they talked on an entirely different subject.
-In the past few months you have shown yourself to good advantage so we decided to send you to participate in the operations work at the party congress. You should regard this both as an incentive and the opportunity to get acquainted with the experience of your Moscow colleagues. When you're back you should give a detailed report to your supervisors…
The congress went on without a hitch. The delegates had been selected and instructed so thoroughly that even the smallest incidents were ruled out. In their speeches that had been endorsed by the presidium beforehand they reported about their progress and assumed new responsibilities. They criticized only particular problems without touching foundations of the state system. It would occur to no one of the thoroughly selected delegates to disagree with party policy either openly or offstage. There could be no come-and-go people in the Kremlin Palace as all delegates and guests had their documents inspected three times.
Rudnev was not extremely busy with his duties so he observed with interest how they made politics in the Soviet Union. He would understand afterwards that CPSU congresses and sessions of the USSR Supreme Council in fact only imitated making important decisions that determined social and economic policy of the country. True politics wasn't made openly. It was made behind thick Kremlin wall in the course of behind-the-scenes struggle between different clans. Information from there never leaked out. Even secret new round ups that were broadcast daily by TASS channels for a narrow circle of executives made only casual mention of this.
Rudnev saw Leonid Brezhnev with his own eyes. The general secretary was still spry although excessive flattery had already affected his psyche. Speeches of delegated contained a lot of expressions like 'Leonid Ilyich personally', 'our dear Leonid Ilyich', 'a true Leninist', 'a successor to the cause of great Lenin', etc. He took the glorification for granted and didn't even try to object to it. An anecdote said that it was only once that he asked his companions-in-arms 'You may call me simply Ilyich' thus stressing the fact he was close to Lenin. During the intervals Brezhnev behaved in a natural manner. He willingly communicated with the delegates, joked and told anecdotes although many of them were stale. Alexander once witnessed an episode when Brezhnev told a funny story that had been circulating in the country for many years during his talk with a regional leader when they mentioned representation of workers and agriculturists who made the majority at the congress. If he wished Rudnev could also approach the general secretary, to greet him or to ask some question. Of course, bodyguards were nearby. However, in those years guarding didn't have the all-out nature we observe now when even aged women and little children are not allowed to approach leaders within gunshot.
Politicians, statesmen, cosmonauts, famous front-rank workers, writers, actors and sportsmen… Rudnev saw live most of these VIP-personalities as they would put it now. This excited him and created an illusion of being involved in major state affairs.
Leaders of Communist parties from abroad were of special interest to Alexander. He unwittingly compared the atmosphere which reigned in Comintern with the things that took place in the Kremlin Palace. The difference was evident. Nobody doubted openly authority of the Soviet Union and the CPSU, as well as their leading role in the international communist movement. However, one could easily feel the touch of artificiality in speeches of distinguished guests and in their behavior in informal atmosphere. They didn't any more display the blind faith in messianism of the USSR that used to determine attitude to the first state of workers and peasants abroad in pre-war period and the first post-war years. There had been no traces left of the atmosphere of universal love and awe that was so typical of 1959 when International youth Festival was held in Moscow. Rudnev guessed the reason for such striking changes by intuition but he didn't want to believe them. He attributed doubts concerning advantages of socialist system to lack of information.
The business trip to Moscow where he had enough time to think everything over convinced him finally that work for the Committee for State Security was not his cup of tea. The need to stretch the truth, to live and work circumspectly, according to the plan outlined from above depressed Alexander and contradicted his own principles. The talk to the officer who stopped his attempts to have access to the archive documents connected with Alexander Kirbay's death made extremely painful impression on him. He developed the wish to delete this year from life and to turn his life back but he didn't know how to do this.
Rudnev was well aware that the Committee was not a common organization. True, to be accepted there is difficult but to leave is even more difficult. One needs some good reasons. Otherwise, any further career should be given up as a bad job at best. At worst… Alexander even didn't want to think of it. He had to keep himself for his daughter and for his parents who were growing old and needed his support badly.
The change of Rudnev's mood didn't remain unnoticed. He carried out the tasks he was entrusted with without any enthusiasm. He began to refuse to do public social work under plausible pretexts. The head of the department tried to have a heart-to-heart talk with him.
-Have you developed any problems with health? Alexander Nikolayevich, you seem to be a different person now.
That's it! How could he forget about it? Rudnev almost jumped off the chair when he heard the unexpected hint of the head of the department. The only reason that would enable him to resign office was health. There was some problem he had, indeed. When he had his medical checkup before being taken on the staff doctors paid attention he had strained sacrum vertebrae. He was recommended to have an operation. Rudnev was operated on twice but the operations didn't manage to eliminate the reasons for pains that made themselves felt quite frequently. The thoughts swept past Alexander's head like the wind. He realized how he should behave. He assumed concerned air and said, 'I didn't want to mention it. I hoped it would all come right in the end. My health has failed, indeed…'
Another medical checkup confirmed he had to be operated on, otherwise his illness would aggravate. Alexander didn't agree to have an operation and asked to dismiss him from office. The request displeased his supervisors extremely because they felt it was not a matter of health problems. Moreover, doctors proved there were specialists in Moscow who operated such patients quite successfully. However, Alexander insisted he wanted to be dismissed from office. He explained he couldn't be operated on for some domestic reasons and he wanted to have a less stressful job. Finally they met his request. The farewell talk with the head of the department they had when Alexander brought the man his clearance chit to be signed left a bad taste in his mouth.
-The Committee for State Security is not a yard with a through passage. You're going to regret your carefree decision more than once…

***
The university rector received Rudnev with undisguised satisfaction.
-Have you come back, prodigal son? You wished to serve your country and didn't want to cringe before somebody. I see… Well then, take back the CPSU history course and get down to work. By all accounts you were quite good at it. Make sure to use materials to do with resolutions of XXV party congress during the seminars. Your own observations will be of extreme interest to students.
It's easy to say 'Take back and get down to work'! He had forgotten a lot in the previous year. The latest party resolutions, including those made at the congress, needed profound comprehension. When he was in the Kremlin Palace he watched only outward environment of the forum and didn't trouble himself with studying its materials. However, nothing could be done about it. If you pledge, don't hedge!
Rudnev got down to work like a maniac. He spent all nights long at books. Besides, he managed to keep home and paid attention to his daughter. He drove himself to complete exhaustion as if he was trying to erase from his memory thoughts about the work for the organization where he was accepted to through some misunderstanding.
When he worked over his thesis Alexander frequently had a harsh word to say about his scientific advisor who recommended him the theme. It goes without saying professor Shklyar did this out of kindness. As a result, when other candidates for a degree wrote their theses without any particular effort and infrequently confined themselves to compilation of available monographs and articles he had to sift through piles of archive documents. He couldn't miss a single document, even the one of regional party committees, when it had to do with heavy industry facilities. Archives of regional party committees of the Communist Party of Byelorussia were kept in the field. Rudnev had to spend weeks there copying thousands of pages as no one could dream of any copiers at the time. In some cases, to have a clear idea about how certain resolutions of the Central Committee were implemented he had to go to enterprises and study documentation there. It goes without saying he might have done with open sources. It must be confessed that unlike doctor's theses most candidate's ones remind of scientific research in their form only. In fact they are nothing but generalization of some familiar material accompanied by imitation of one's own conclusions. However, Rudnev would never have agreed to do such careless work. This feature has complicated his life more than once…
Work over the thesis went no as quickly as he wished it to. Empiric material made up twenty thick notebooks covered with small handwriting. Even after it was laid out by corresponding sections and headings it reminded very much of some information gulf where he could easily drown. Alexander looked through his notebooks and cursed both his scientific advisor who had drawn him into this adventure and himself for agreeing to do the work he had distaste for…
Professor Shklyar died when Alexander came to the most crucial point of work at his thesis. Rudnev lost not only his scientific advisor who helped him to look into nuances of the complicated matter but also the man who could protect him from unfair attacks in case there were some complications at the defense. The authority of this prominent scholar and brilliant speaker in academic circles was so high that even his staunchest opponents didn't dare challenge him openly. Just think, he was scientific advisor of 150 candidates for a degree who had defended their theses.
Very soon Rudnev understood how serious the loss was. There appeared some ill-wishers who began to spread rumors that his thesis was merely rendering of party and government resolutions and that he was going to fail. Alexander didn't doubt he would be able to refute this ridiculous gossip at his defense. However, there was one feature about his work that could take a bad turn.
Mikhail Yephimovich taught him to express his thoughts freely. He liked to repeat, 'The one who quails before authorities is never going to rise to their level.' Alexander was of the same opinion, this feature of his revealed itself already at the time when he wrote his graduation paper. He re-read his thesis and found many examples of abrupt opinions and thoughts close to sedition.
He got afraid of his boldness. He developed a wish to re-write his work anew. There was an obtrusive line from a song by Vladimir Vysotsky in his head, 'Ride a bit slower, my horses, a bit slower!' However, the defense was already in the work schedule of the specialized board, so a request to call it off would bring about more false rumors. Alexander decided to leave things as they were.
His fears turned out to be unfounded. The defense went in a surprisingly smooth way. However, his opponents didn't fail to note that in some cases wording of the thesis reminds more of political essays than of scientific research.
Long months of expectation dragged on. Decisions to confer academic doctoral and candidate's degrees, as well as academic titles of professor and associate professor were made by Supreme Certification Board in Moscow. They practiced sample dispatch of theses for the so-called 'black' review when the fate of a candidate for a degree was determined by a complete stranger. When the review was unfavorable the decision of the specialized board was cancelled. It usually took four months for the procedures to be over. Long before the time expired Rudnev began to look into the mail box hoping to see the cherished envelope there. Six months had passed but there was still no answer from Moscow. His anxiety turned into panic. Now Alexander was sure Shklyar's advice not to spare any authorities had played a mean trick on him. Supreme Certification Board in Moscow was unlikely to allow ideological liberties of the kind.
Several more months passed. Rudnev had lost any hope and stopped being interested in the contents of the mailbox. Every day he just took out a pile of newspapers and magazines from the box and left it on the coffee table in the living room to read them shortly before going to bed. Evening was the time Alexander reserved for reading the press.
On the eve of the new 1981 year Rudnev came back home in a bad mood. Those who began their work at theses at the same time he did had already worked as senior lecturers, some of them had even managed to become associate professors. He was still a teacher who had the right to conduct seminars only. Alexander gradually began to develop inferiority complex.
He glanced at envelopes and put them aside even without opening. He unfolded the newspaper 'Pravda.' A letter fell onto the floor. Rudnev picked it up and couldn't believe his eyes. There was his own handwriting on the envelope just as Supreme Certification Board required. He tore the envelope with his hands shaking and read, '… academic degree of a candidate of historical sciences is conferred on you'…

***
One might think Rudnev's life would settle down after the candidate's degree was conferred on him. Now he could give a course of lectures in the CPSU history he had worked out before. He also elaborated two specialized courses; they were 'Ideological confrontation of two world systems' and 'Economic competition between two world systems'. The courses turned out to be quite timely. In November 1982 Brezhnev died. The former KGB chairman Yuri Andropov who regarded propaganda of Soviet way of life and counter-propaganda as of paramount importance for ideological activities was nominated the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee. The press, radio and television in formed about advantages of socialism and persuaded that capitalist system had exhausted itself and would not be long for this world. Rudnev was invited to scientific conferences, asked to speak to lecturers and to write articles for newspapers and magazines. He knew the genuine information and he realized that real life was not as good as propaganda put it. The decaying capitalist economy kept displaying high labor efficiency and responded to market needs quickly. They didn't have the notion 'shortage' in the West while this phenomenon made itself felt quite clear in the USSR. Even little kids preferred to use the word 'obtain' rather than 'buy' when they asked their parents for some cherished thing. However, Alexander could present the state of affairs from the viewpoint of historic retrospective. His explanations that the gap between socialist and capitalist living standards was temporary and that it was due to war and discriminatory measures in trade sphere that were employed against the USSR by the USA and its satellites sounded quite convincing.
Rudnev responded to every request, so he worked very hard. He tried to replenish his domestic budget so he made some money on the side giving lectures in different higher educational establishments though it wasn't extremely necessary. It seemed to him his body could easily endure this truly excessive overload. Even at the time his health started to fail, e.g. he had pains in his heart, tiredness displayed itself quite often, he didn't take it seriously and tried to console himself humming his favorite songs, 'Old age is not going to find me at home. I am always on the go…'
The bravado played a mean trick on Rudnev. He had always tried to take upon himself more than others did. When he was a child he always lifted extremely heavy weights. When he earned money doing some unofficial construction jobs as a student he used to pull two fifty-kilo sacks of cement trying not to become similar to those weaklings who could hardly cope with one. At mature age he slept two times less than was necessary to call his strength back.
There was one more habit that almost ruined Rudnev. He knew how to drink and never yielded to anyone as far as drinking was concerned. He didn't drink too often but when he did drink he followed the principle, 'A bottle is too little, two bottles is too much, while three bottles is just enough!' Even after he consumed the doses that could knock everyone else off their feet he came home as if nothing had happened.
The internal stress that had been accumulating for years required an outlet so he unwittingly took a great interest in spirits. Alcohol produced an illusion of liberation. The amount he consumed increased each time, sometimes it was as close to five bottles of vodka. Afterwards, he took a liking for spirit. It was not difficult to obtain, as they sold it at the chemist's for medical purposes. Besides, it was given out to research laboratories for different jobs where only small amounts were used for industrial needs with the rest being written off and consumed internally.
They couldn't but notice his new passion at the university where he worked. However, he always conducted classes properly and never accomplished any thoughtless actions. It could only be guessed what passions raged in his soul. Nevertheless, there were some malignant people who pressed for him being fired from the university.
Rudnev could endure strokes of misfortune with fortitude. Even when he found himself face to face with the organization that crushed millions of people's lives and dealt mercilessly with everyone who was suspected of treason, he withstood and didn't give in. However, he turned out to be helpless when hi faced his friends' disloyalty.
Alexander noticed there were some irreversible changes going on in his body. Pains in the heart were followed by ache in joints. It was quite a short time before that he could run several kilometers without any particular effort while now he was short-winded even when he walked quickly. Once he realized that his legs fail to obey him. His mind fixed the changes but the brain region responsible for emotions didn't give any alarm signals as if some invisible hand had switched it off.
Rudnev was aware he was dying slowly but he didn't feel any fear. He watched himself lying on the bed helplessly as if from an outsider's viewpoint…
When ambulance men delivered him to hospital he was almost unconscious. Hospital attendants carried him in a stretcher as Rudnev wasn't able to make a single step on his own.
He remembered November 24, 1984 forever. This was the day when the two forces that influence all things in existence on Earth, i.e. Life and Death, met at his bed. Each of them had a claim on his body without pretending to have his soul. The soul belongs to God and only the Lord has the right to decide whether it should remain in the body or leave it and go to heaven for purification and new incarnation. God decided in favor of Life. This day became Alexander's second birthday…
Rudnev's illness didn't keep within the standard bounds of alcoholism. There were some strange things about his tests that ran counter to medical practice. His attending medical doctor reported this to the head doctor. It was decided to have a council of physicians. Its conclusion was unfavorable. They thought the patient was impossible to be saved.
Despite the fact his wife had already divorced to him she couldn't remain indifferent to the fate of her daughter's father. It's difficult to say whether she felt she was guilty for what had happened or not. Most probably, she didn't. Nature proceeded from maternal essence of a woman and provided her with various defense mechanisms that enable her to live longer than a man does. Physical factors alone can't ensure longevity because human health depends directly on his state of mind. That is why feminine logic is directed entirely towards moderating the feeling of guilt. Most women, even if they're absolutely wrong, accuse men of their own mistakes. This phenomenon displays itself in the popular wisdom saying 'If you consider a woman to be wrong you should beg her pardon!'
The attending medical doctor didn't venture to tell Rudnev's wife the doctor's conclusion at once.
-We're doing our best. Unfortunately, medicine is not all-powerful. Your husband has rare illness…
-Why do you call it 'rare', doctor? One man out of two nowadays is an alcoholic.
-Your husband is not an alcoholic.
-Isn't he? He has been drinking like a fish in the past several months. He was brought to hospital after some protracted drinking bout.
-He was, indeed. However, it wasn't alcohol that brought him to the critical condition. It wasn't alcohol that had such destructive influence on his health. Your husband suffers from utmost nervous exhaustion. As a rule, the depression like this is brought about by a number of reasons. Your family relations could have been one of them… I have to warn you that you should expect the worst. There's no objective evidence at the moment that would let us hope for his recovery. However, miracles occur sometimes. Your husband has got extremely vigorous constitution that is waiting for an impulse from the nervous system. If only the patient could adjust it to active mode! Unfortunately, he's almost unconscious now so we can't rely on this…
They say a man turns back to his past before death reproducing in his mind the most important events of his life. When Rudnev's mind cleared up he was thinking about the future. He thought his little daughter was going to have a hard time without him. In a half-conscious state he saw his daughter stretching her hands for him. His immobilized body got strained as if he was trying to rise. Then darkness fell again. He sank into it as if into a hole and whispered, 'I'll be back!..'
His mind reminded of swing of the pendulum that disappeared and then came back. During these borderline moments between life and death a supernatural being appeared before him. It looked at him in a strict and attentive way. It's going to remain a mystery beyond our comprehension whether these were common hallucinations or God appeared before him to decide on his destiny. Yet, Rudnev is convinced they were God and his daughter that brought him back to life.
He stayed in hospital for about three months. His illness yielded gradually. Even when crisis began to show his doctors didn't venture to make a final conclusion as he could suffer a relapse any moment. However, he survived.
When Rudnev was discharged from hospital his attending medical; doctor confessed to him, 'To tell you the truth, Alexander Nikolayevich, the illness will have an impact on your psyche and that you'll become a disabled person. I'm glad I was mistaken.'
-You weren't mistaken, doctor. Your forecast was correct. You just didn't take into account I have a lot of things to do in my life…
Most of Rudnev's colleagues embraced his coming back to work with joy. People sympathized with him. The head of the sub-department treated him as if Rudnev had returned after a long business trip. He shook Alexander's hand.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, a lot of things have piled up while you were absent. Will you cope with them?
-I will. You may believe me I'll never let my colleagues down.
-I have never doubted it…
For the first time after so many months Rudnev felt alive again. Even some slight pains in the heart made him glad. For some reason he remembered the scene from 'Virgin Soil Upturned' by Sholokhov when Makar Nagulnov who had been read out was returning home. He wanted to commit suicide in a fit of despair. He was about to pull the trigger of the gun he held at his temple but he imagined his enemies' joy at his death and overcome the momentary hesitation. 'I'll never do you the pleasure, swine!' Alexander echoed Makar Nagulnov in his thoughts…
Rudnev defeated his main enemy. Far from every great personality who fell victim to alcohol managed to do this. Rudnev decided to consolidate his disdain for alcohol by… collecting spirits. He bought rare brands of cognac, vodka and wine, displayed this dangerous collection to his friends and acquaintances and even treated them to some spirits. Nevertheless, he has never touched alcohol in the past twenty-five years.
There's another unusual collection at his disposal. He has worn ties since he was a student. He prefers wearing formal clothes even on hot summer days. A friend of his even joked once, 'You must have been born wearing a tie, Alexander Nikolayevich.'
Rudnev countered, 'That's highly unlikely, I think. I must have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I've had too many fracture tests in my life but I've never been broken!'
There are about four hundred (!) ties in his collection ranging from those that were fashionable in 1960s - they were woven and had a fastener - to the most fashionable ones that are long and are made from expensive cloth. Most of them have been brought from abroad. People who know about this uncommon liking prefer to give him ties as a birthday present. They also choose a matching shirt for the present not to look too moderate. His daughter once made an attempt to put his clothes in order but she got mixed up and gave up.
-If you like the junk, daddy, let it jam your wardrobes.
'This junk will be sold at Sotheby's one day!' Rudnev joked.

 

IDEALS COLLAPSE.
LIFE GOES ON.

Gorbachev's perestroika stormed into Soviet people's lives like vortex, destroyed their lifestyle and sowed bitter seeds of doubt in their souls. It couldn't but affect Rudnev, too. Something he had been suspecting for a long time, something they could talk only in their kitchens about while watching the reaction of neighbors suddenly became a matter of public debate. The mass media behaved just like mad propaganda dogs on the loose and attainted party functionaries. They dug out some little known facts from country's history and stunned people with sensations. The loan translation of the Russian word 'glasnost' entered vocabulary of foreign states firmly.
At fist Rudnev was happy to have so much information at his disposal. It was a real Klondike for social scientists. Besides the newspaper 'Pravda' that every communist had to subscribe to without fail he liked reading 'Komsomolskaya pravda', 'Literaturnaya gazeta', 'Moskovsky komsomolets', 'Moscow news' and the magazine 'Ogonek' that were notable for their acute articles. He tried not to miss a single program of the TV Company 'Vzglyad'. He made active use of this extensive material and made bold comments about authorities and their actions. His course 'CPSU history', as well as his specialized courses, enjoyed wide popularity.
The headings to do with glasnost in the media became the major means of public education. The day before they broadcast live on TV a television space bridge 'Moscow-New York' where USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev participated. One could compare the significance of these extremely popular programs to the 'window to Europe' cut through by Peter the Great. Soviet people were now able to obtain information about life abroad from the primary source. They had an opportunity to listen to both the leader of their own country and to his opponents, as well as to participate in the discussion. It was at the time that an average woman in Ostankino said the words that turned into a catchphrase immediately, 'There's no sex in the USSR!'
The television space bridge was hosted by Phil Donahue who was a popular American commentator, and Vladimir Pozner. He had worked in the USA for a long time and knew mentality of Americans quite well. The program took longer than expected but the whole of the country kept watching it long after midnight observing sharp polemics anxiously. The only thing that annoyed everyone was some incomprehensible frequent stops that Pozner who felt evidently uncomfortable tried to fill in with comments they had heard on the air. One of the students asked Rudnev whether these insertions were reasonable enough.
Rudnev responded frankly, 'They are necessary rather than reasonable.'
-Why?
-Its majesty Advertising is the real proprietor of American television. It is owing to incredible means invested by private companies to promote their goods and services by means of TV that is the most effective means of advertising that Western media exist. When live broadcast is interrupted Americans viewers are shown commercials that are also broadcast on the huge monitor screens place din the New York studio. The leadership of our country fears that abundance of goods in the West against the background of all-out shortage we observe in the USSR may have pernicious influence over the mind of Soviet people and undermine the foundations of our ideology.
-Are you of the same opinion?
-No, I'm not. The truth however bitter it is does not weaken people. On the contrary, it unites them, just like it did during the Great Patriotic War. Lies undermine people's faith. This is the most terrible thing that could happen. In my opinion, our propaganda does more harm than good by concealing information about progress of capitalist economy and living standards abroad…
A storm of applause drowned the bell that let everyone know the class was over. The students surrounded Rudnev and showered him with questions. The head of the sub-department watched the scene, waved his head reproachfully and left the auditorium. When the work day was over and everyone had gone home he invited Rudnev to his office.
Rudnev realized the talk was going to be informal when he saw a tea pot, a tin of good imported coffee, two cups and a sweet bowl on the table.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, I'm going to speak frankly to you. I'm fascinated by your skills in giving lectures, just like students are. I didn't see a bored face in the auditorium during the lecture! Very few venerable professors succeed in doing this. You kept everyone in suspense and made them look for answers to the topical issues. Yet… You should try to understand me… What are you driving at? You don't seem to be giving a course of lectures in the CPSU history. Rather, you give lectures about exposure of the CPSU and act as a prosecutor. Who has entitled you to accuse the USSR leadership of incompetence? Glasnost is a good thing but you can't carry out any unauthorized revision of the past on your own. This is the task for research institutions. It would take years or even decades to solve it… If party bodies are going to find out about your arbitrariness I'll be removed from my position and you'll be put to prison. Think it over until it's too late.
Rudnev was ready for such assessment of his lectures by the head of the sub-department. He was well aware that education system is characterized by huge inertial power. This feature is both an advantage and a disadvantage. It is bad if a lecturer who doesn't have an opinion of his own follows blindfold public opinion that changes as if it were unpredictable weather. It is typical of many people whose academic degrees were conferred on them not for some research work but as a compensation for wearing out the seat of their trousers in libraries. These people are easily influenced by the media and transfer sedition from newspapers into subject courses. Conservative nature of education system protects youth from adventurers. At the same time it burns the way to genuine innovation. Vladimir Soukhomlinsky's talent was appreciated only after his death. Inter vivo this distinguished pedagogue whose talent may me compared to that of Yanoush Korchak or Anton Makarenko was humiliated at teachers' conferences and defamed by the media. It goes without saying Rudnev didn't rank himself among the leading pedagogues. However, he felt hurt that his boss accused him without even trying to grasp the essence of those changes Alexander was trying to introduce.
Frankly speaking, he was beginning to understand that the media were too much carried away by denunciation. Instead of spearheading at bureaucrats and corrupt officials who drowned economic reforms in their empty talk and thus promoted collapse of the Soviet Union they earned cheap popularity with society by soiling the past. If one took the information presented by the media in all good faith it turned out to be utter nonsense. It followed, for example, that all great projects of industrialization period were entirely merit of prisoners, that collectivization was carried out at gun point, that the Great Patriotic War was won by battalions of military offenders and that the atomic bomb was created according to grafts stolen from German scientist… In a word, there did not seem to be any outstanding achievements of scientists, as well as there wasn't any unprecedented work and moral enthusiasm. It seemed the only thing we could observe was merciless exploitation of workers. The media also claimed that the Soviet people as historic community are merely an invention of idea mongers. Following the singer poet Boris Grebenshchikov's example the offensive term 'sovok' meaning 'a person with ingrained Soviet mentality' spread around in the country. Those who quite recently praised to the skies advantages of Soviet way of life hastened to admit 'We're a nation of sovoks of humble origin'.
Attitude of these people whose ideological inspirers were the general secretary of the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev, Politburo members, CPSU Central Committee's secretary Alexander Yakovlev and the minister for Foreign Affairs Edward Shevardnadze revolted Rudnev. It goes without saying there was some truth in their statements. When he gave his lectures Rudnev tried to separate the information wheat from propaganda chaff, he compared genuine facts with their interpretation and tried to explain the reasons why the USSR history had been misrepresented. Unfortunately, very few people paid attention to this.
Gradually, Alexander developed disgust at television that had turned into a means of mass confrontation. He also disapproved of the newspapers that were full of gossip and undisguised libel. Even 'Komsomolskaya Pravda' that used to be a model for morality slipped into the mire of the so-called gutter press.
The media orgy intensified centrifugal processes that had been given rise to by economic crisis, poor leadership and the psychological war waged against the Soviet Union by Western intelligence services. Hot spots emerged everywhere. Nations who had lived side by side peacefully began to take up arms. Rudnev who had experience of working for the KGB understood the things that were beyond comprehension of men in the street.
At different get-togethers his friends still admired glasnost and discussed lively the most significant exposures. This produced painful impression over Alexander. One day he interfered into a discussion like this.
-Don't you understand what we're heading at?
'To democracy and establishing civil society,' his friend who was an optimist answered enthusiastically.
'The one who believes is blissful. Things are heading to the USSR collapse, the CPSU prohibition totalitarianism,' Rudnev objected.
Everyone looked at him as if he was a leper.
-Well, chap, you exaggerate things!..
After long and agonizing hesitation Rudnev brought an application to the university party committee, 'In view of the CPSU discredit and double-dealing policy carried out by its leadership, as well as due to its leaders' inability for self-purification I want to discontinue my CPSU membership.' The application made the party committee secretary fly into a rage.
-Only rats desert a sinking ship. True communists consolidate round the CPSU and its general secretary.
-You shouldn't find comfort in illusions. Mikhail Gorbachev betrayed the party a long time ago. He's the one responsible for the fact the CPSU ceased to be the governing force of the society and is driving the country to appalling tragedy.
-Rudnev, how do you dare slander the man who's the USSR president and the CPSU Central Committee's general secretary? I see this is far from being a nervous breakdown that could be understood and forgiven. This is a stance. I have been informed you spread anti-party propaganda during your lectures. You'll answer for this!
The party committee secretary started crying. He didn't know what to do next so he seized at the phone handset as if he was going to inform the higher authority about an outrageous deed of the communist Rudnev, then he jumped off the chair and walked around his room nervously.
'I will,' Rudnev said in cold blood as if this had been happening to somebody else. 'I wonder if those who're responsible for the USSR collapse will answer for this.'
The same day he wrote another application asking to relieve him of his associate professor's position.
Several days later they found out about the putsch. The news confirmed Rudnev's most gloomy prophesy.

***
After the Supreme Soviet made a hasty decision under the influence of the group Byelorussian Popular Front to prohibit the Communist Party of Byelorussia the Ministry of Justice was poured down with applications to register new political parties and public organizations. The overwhelming majority of these had neither ideas nor people who could embody them. However, the Ministry rubber-stamped their basic instruments and didn't even bother to analyze them. As a result, the Party of beer-fanciers turned out to be almost the biggest organization. The rules of the party could be conveyed in one phrase, 'If you like beer join our ranks!'
It was long before these events that Rudnev's old university friend drew him in discussions organized by the deputy group 'Communists for democracy' whose members were Dmitry Boulakhov, Vasily Dolgolev, Alexander Sosnov, Viktor Gonchar, Leonid Sechko and other deputees who had already come into the television spotlight. At the time live broadcasts of the Supreme Soviet sessions were as popular as Mexican TV series.
The group 'Communists for democracy' was established in contrast to the group 'Belarus' that had many deputies belonging to the Communist Party of Belarus as its members. The Central Committee of the party tried to oppose registration of this group and announced these people to be turncoats. However, the orgy of democracy had already acquired such forms that nobody paid attention to either party rules or any laws.
The main topic of such deputy meetings with activists participating was to establish a party that would be able to unite politically mature body of electors and to come to power. The Communist Party of Byelorussia was losing its prestige. Its leaders turned out to be unable to take a sober view of domestic political situation and were late to react to the changes in the country. However, hatred of party functionaries didn't extend to communists. That is why it was decided to use the brand and to unite it with the popular term democracy.
The Byelorussian Popular Front was seen as the most serious rival. Owing to charismatic and energetic Zenon Poznyak the group managed to attract quickly a lot of supporters among workers and intellectuals.
Within the parliament the group of the Byelorussian Popular Front worked as a well adjusted mechanism where all decisions were taken by consolidated voting. They could resist it only by establishing a party that would have the same efficient organization and tight discipline. However, when Rudnev listened to emotional speeches of the deputies who belonged to the group 'Communists for democracy' he got more and more convinced they were not much better than the Communist Party of Byelorussia. Their speech was rich in the same hackneyed ideological stock-phrases; they were unable to distinguish strategic goals from tactical tasks and displayed utter confusion as far as organizational issues were concerned. One day Rudnev couldn't stand any longer so he asked to speak.
-It seems to me that when we establish a new party we should first of all define its social basis and distinguish our strong supporters from those who are vacillating or just sympathize with us. Then, we should transfer our propaganda center to regions. And in general, gentlemen, you should turn to Lenin's works more often because they haven't lost their topicality even at the present stage of historic development.
The mention of Lenin affected ambitious deputies like a red rag to a bull.
-To hell with Lenin. Stop feeding us the foul ideological porridge. We're fed up with it! Don't imagine you're giving seminars in the CPSU history.
Rudnev tried to object but ran into undisguised hostility.
'Listen, lad, your remarks were out of place,' Leonidov tried to bring home to him after the meeting. 'These people have an entirely different way of thinking. They're too busy to deal with setting up a party. They need power right now.'
-Things never happen this way. The situation in the republic is quite tense but it's far from being critical one. The government of Vyacheslav Kebich is trying to pursue competent economic policy. There's no trace of the revolutionary situation in Belarus that according to Lenin could bring about change of power. How do they plan to reach their goal?
-Why do you keep mentioning Lenin all the time? Times have changed. People are entirely different now. Do you remember the slogan of Komsomol members? It said 'Move on. We'll sort everything out afterwards!'
-Do you think these adventurers will be able to come to power?
-It's not that I believe it or not. Today these adventurers have seats in parliament. They also have unlimited access to the media and they enjoy support of the population. If they don't join us the party will be doomed to failure.
Leonidov had the same preventive talk with his opponents without informing Rudnev of this.
-Why did you jump all over him? Alexander Rudnev is an intellectual and a brilliant organizer who enjoys great authority at university. His name will help us win round thousands of teachers and students. He should play one of the leading roles in the party…
Rudnev was seized by the idea to set up a democratic party. He was thinking over its name and structure and made its draft rules. 'The party of democratic socialism' headed by a talented politician Gregory Gizzy who managed to win over to his side numerous supporters of the Socialist united party of Germany after the latter was out of the picture enjoyed great popularity in the former Democratic Republic of Germany. Alexander managed to obtain party's rules through his acquaintances and made use of some of its items in his draft. However, he realized on second thoughts that the word socialism would be a major butt for the Byelorussian Popular Front that was trying to obtain monopoly to say for the Byelorussian people. 'We should deprive nationalists of the opportunity to stack the deck,' Rudnev pondered.
Leonidov who resorted to shuttle diplomacy in relations between Rudnev and the deputies brought him together with Gennady Karpenko who became famous as a mayor of Molodechno. Karpenko, as well as his deputy Viktor Gonchar made the best use of the media and presented the district center Molodechno as a 'town of the sun'. They should be done justice as Molodechno indeed had changed for the better. They repaired roadway covering of central streets and made repairs of administrative buildings. Popular singers and musicians became frequent visitors there. However, this was only appearances. The economy of the town, just like all over the republic, was in a grip of crisis, so living standards of Molodechno inhabitants weren't any better than those in other district centers.
Gennady Karpenko made a very favorable impression in his outward appearance. He was tall and broad as an ox. He was reserved and talked slowly as if weighing every word. Unlike his colleagues he didn't seek to make speeches unless it was necessary and he was good at listening to others. He was similar to Rudnev in some respects so they were on friendly terms for some time.
When they discussed party matters Gennady Karpenko offered to call it the Party of accord.
'This is exactly what we lack badly now,' he persuaded Rudnev. 'The government and the Supreme Soviet are unable to come to terms with each other. The strike committee headed by Sergey Antonchik is fighting against them both. Vyacheslav Kebich can't find any mutual understanding with Stanislav Shoushkevich. The group 'Belarus' is squabbling with deputies of the Byelorussian Popular Front. People have become tired of this muddle.'
'Quite so! People have become tired of this,' Rudnev agreed. 'Let's mention this in the name and call it the Party of people's accord.'
The founding conference held in 1991 supported the suggestion unanimously. Gennady Karpenko was elected chairman of the party council; Alexander Rudnev headed its executive committee while Leonidov was responsible for ideology.
Unfortunately, it was only Rudnev out of the triumvirate who really dealt with organization development. Gennady Karpenko settled for the role of a figurehead who only made policy statements at different meetings while Alexander had to shoulder many of Karpenko's responsibilities. An entrepreneur gave the executive committee a 'Zhigouly' for temporary use so Rudnev made frequent trips to different areas and didn't have a moment's rest. He campaigned at industrial enterprises and had meetings with intellectuals and students. Workers were reluctant to join the party.
-We're through with the CPSU. We were driven there like cattle. And now you have to do the same!
'The CPSU was a party of officials while we want to establish a party for people. You should understand no one is going to hand you happy life on a silver platter. If you keep aloof from solving vital social problems somebody else would reap where they had not sown while you would go on the rocks,' Rudnev persuaded them.
Workers listened to him and agreed. However, very few of them applied to the party. Most men escaped with promises, 'We'll wait and see how things will go on. It's never late to wear the collar.'
Teachers and students turned out to be much more compliant. After almost every trip to regions Rudnev came back with resolutions on establishing primary and town party organizations. There were quite many officials from security, defense and law enforcement agencies who took up his call though these bodies claimed officially to be outside any politics. By the end of 1992 the Party of people's accord had over 2.5 thousand members. This was considerable number but they failed to deal with it properly.
Leonidov reduced relations with masses to formally informing newspapers about different party activities. These illiterate items of news were of little interest to the media so they were literally thrown away into refuge bins. Meanwhile the media were free and open for co-operation after they got rid of the Communist Party diktat. Alexander Lukashenko took advantage of this. His articles and interviews were published by leading newspapers. He frequently participated in various TV programs. Alexander Lukashenko's Anticorruption Report published by 'Sovetskaya Byelorussia' caused a genuine commotion. Rudnev showed it at one of the meetings of the executive committee and spoke in an excited manner, 'Alexander Lukashenko alone does more than the whole of our party. Leonidov, why isn't the Party of people's accord given any media coverage? This is your immediate responsibility.'
-What can I do if newspapers fail to publish our materials?
-Have you met at least one editor-in-chief? The press is interested in analytical information rather than the information little things you provide them with. 'Narodnaya Gazeta' has even published an article by Zenon Poznyak 'On Russian imperialism' that is full of Russo phobia one can see from a mile away… We must admit however bitter it might be that we have stayed too long in our officers and are gradually turning into a party of bigheads that won't be able to win over the masses to its side. You should understand the democracy of meetings is good at critical moments while at the moment its effect will be almost zero. People are tired of empty talk. They aren't interested in slogans. Some specific matters are of interest to them, namely, how reforms are going to be implemented and how they're going to affect people's standards of living. We should discuss this in detail when we meet employees of different enterprises. You should distribute special issues of our newspaper 'Zgoda' at the meetings.
They listened to Rudnev but still had it their own way. Alexander was gradually seized with despair. When he met Gennady Karpenko he tried to convince him to get involved in more active work, to exert his influence upon the executive committee and to shake up the council that was supreme party body. Karpenko agreed and promised to support activities offered by Alexander. However, a day or two later he could change his mind because he believed intriguers who constantly whispered to him, 'Rudnev criticizes others but he doesn't do anything himself. He behaves as if he were an intellectual aristocrat. It is rumored he's looking to become a president of the country.'
At the end of 1993 the media were filled with articles open to discussion to do with constitution reform. The article about presidential government became a stumbling block. People's opinions were almost equally divided. The supporters asserted that lack of a presidential post didn't make it possible to consolidate power, prevented economic reforms from being implemented efficiently and placed Belarus at a disadvantage on the world arena. The opponents with the Byelorussian Popular Front playing first fiddle threatened with the possibility of power usurpation by a man who would be alien to national interests. On March 15 1994 the Supreme Soviet passed a law declaring Belarus to be a presidential republic. Hardly had the Belarusian people managed to breathe in the air of freedom when they obediently offered their necks for another yoke.
Rudnev thought more than once about proposing himself a candidate for the presidential post. He compared himself with other prospective candidates and noted without false modesty he wasn't second to none to any of them. Moreover, he excelled them in some respects. However, he had to convince of this at least members of his party at first.
The talk to Leonidov was far from being easy. When he found out about Alexander's intentions he said, 'Sasha, the burden is too heavy for you to carry!'
-Why so?
-I'm sorry to say this but you are a common teacher. There's no denying the fact that you're an intellectual and a good organizer. I must admit the Party of people's accord could establish itself owing to your hard work. However, this is not enough. You've never worked in parliament and in the executive sphere so you're completely unaware of morals and manners of our officialdom. You lack knowledge that could become a decisive factor. Power is primarily hidden struggle without any rules and principles. You're a fastidious person who can't break his principles even when his life is at stake. You'll fall prey in the very first skirmishes. We should nominate Gennady Karpenko as our party candidate for presidency. If he wins you'll be given an adequate post.
-Doesn't it seem to you that Karpenko is too spineless? People don't like infantile politicians; forceful personalities are more to their liking. He would make a good prime minister but I doubt if he could be a good president!
Leonidov didn't answer anything to this remark. Alexander understood his friend was of the same opinion. However, to all appearances, he had engaged himself to some obligation that he couldn't break. 'It means I can't rely on any support within the Party of people's accord. It won't be reasonable to run for presidency alone.' Rudnev felt sad at the thought. However, there was some time to change the alignment of forces in his favor. He was used to fighting to the last.
Meetings of the council of the Party of people's accord reminded more of village get-togethers Alexander witnessed in his childhood. They didn't speak about party activities. They discussed high-society news and made guesses about when the election campaign would start. They also formed power structure and argued about cabinet posts so curiously as if they had already gained victory at the presidential elections. Rudnev got irritated.
-Why do you count your chickens before they are hatched? You'd better think how we're going to organize our election campaign.
His remarks caused a stormy reaction. It turned out practically all activities reduced to nothing and that chairperson of the executive committee was to blame!
Rudnev got more and more convinced he had got out of favor with the wing of the party that unconditionally supported Gennady Karpenko. However, these people were in the minority in the executive committee so it gave him some hope of successful outcome of the skirmish that could happen any moment. His misgivings turned out to be true. At the end of January 1994 Leonidov dropped in at his place.
-Let's go out and have a talk.
-You know I haven't taken any alcohol for ten years.
-Well, let's go and have a coffee then.
The caf? where Leonidov invited Rudnev turned out to be the one where he had a meeting with the security official once. 'Is this merely an accident?' Alexander thought. 'They might be making secret recordings of talks here.' Although he didn't notice anything suspicious he couldn't get rid of the impression there was somebody listening to their talk.
Leonidov decided not to drag out and took the bull by the horns.
-I have discussed with executive committee members your desire to stand for presidency. I might upset you, Alexander, but the party won't support you.
-You shouldn't speak for the whole party. I think the executive committee isn't as unanimous as it seems to you.
-We offer you a reasonable compromise, Alexander. You should voluntarily resign your post of executive committee chairman. Instead, we guarantee you a decent post in the government to be.
-This sounds like bargaining. What about principles and party interests?
-I have always thought you to be an idealist. No one thinks about principles when it comes to struggle for power.
-Only people like you don't have any principles.
-You mean you don't agree.
-I do but only on condition that that I leave and organize a faction consisting of those who hold the same point of view…
No one forced him to say this! Several days later at the time they held a meeting of the executive committee Alexander got convinced he had made a bad mistake when he voiced his plans. Gennady Karpenko's supporters realized the faction Rudnev was going to establish would in fact be a party of minority while they would have to be content with the poor role of minority so they took some preventive steps. When he was opening the meeting Alexander saw a dozen of complete strangers in the hall. He didn't suspect what things were heading to so he handed presiding over the meeting to Penkrat Malinovsky whose name was called out hastily by somebody from the audience. Malinovsky slowly laid out some papers he must have prepared in advance and said, 'Comrades! In view of the fact we're going to have more work to do after the election campaign started there are suggestions to co-opt a group of party activists onto the council.'
'This contradicts party rules that don't provide for any co-optation. Council members are elected at the party congress,' Rudnev objected.
-Indeed, there's no provision like this in the rules. However, there's also no item that bans co-optation. We consider this to be an urgent measure and are sure the congress will support the council resolution.
Penkrat Malinovsky looked at Rudnev triumphantly.
The rest was a technical matter. The new members co-opted onto the council ensured majority of votes for Gennady Karpenko's supporters who made a decision about Rudnev's resignation and exclusion from the executive committee. Thus they made way for Gennady Karpenko to stand for presidential post.
'You've reminded me of complacent Athenians who sentenced Socrates to death because he irritated them by his caustic questions and who paid for their self-assurance,' Alexander said when he was leaving the meeting. He didn't even suspect his prophesy would come true very soon.
After Rudnev's resignation the Party of people's accord dispersed, in fact. Gennady Karpenko who wasn't sure the party would be able to collect a hundred thousand signatures of supporters chose not to waste time and to use an alternative opportunity, namely, to enlist support of deputies. One needed 70 votes at the very least. They managed to gain support of 78 deputies. However, just before the elections 14 deputies who were members of the Socialist Democratic Party recalled their votes and gave them to Stanislav Shushkevich. Although electoral law didn't have any provisions for this the Central election committee thought this step to be quite possible, so Gennady Karpenko was refused registration…

***
The March happened to be very warm.
Winters in Belarus now are nothing similar to those he remembered since childhood with their huge snowdrifts of a man's height, with biting frosts when one was chilled to the marrow and when the body turned into a solid piece if ice. It was so cold that as soon as they ran into the house they rushed to the stove and first leaned against it to warm their backs, then embraced hot bricks with their arms and stood still in a perfect bliss. Unlike the winters of his childhood, this one looked more like late autumn. It was raining all December and January. The sun rays struggled their way through dark grey leaden-colored clouds. They emerged for a while, wondered at the unusual view and hid behind the thick curtain of clouds once again. It started snowing at the end of March only, which made drivers swear because they had already changed tires.
However, although March was very much similar to December and February as if they were its brothers people were much happier because everything around signaled spring had come! The trees were in full bud, cats were screaming hysterically at night and birds were singing joyously at dawn.
When he walked his favorite sheep dog Fred early in the morning Alexander Rudnev yielded involuntarily to overall euphoria caused by nature's awakening. The troubles that didn't give a moment's piece as long ago as yesterday vanished. Some inspiring anticipation filled his soul. The master's mood passed on to the dog that despite its mature age jumped at him, yelped joyously and tried to seize the flap of his sports coat.
'Well, stop it! Or you'll get it from me!' Rudnev warned. However, the dog disregarded his words. It knew its master to a nicety, took his every hint and was well aware he would never hurt it. They were tied by mutual love. When Rudnev left home Fred was patiently waiting for him at the door. If he was out late the dog jumped onto the windowsill and looked out intensely. In some inconceivable way it felt Rudnev even at a great distance. When Alexander was coming back from some business trip it took him only to get out of the carriage onto the railway platform when the dog started rushing about the corridor whining and jumping. In the same way it unmistakably recognized the sound of his 'Audi' although a lot of cars drove into their yard every moment.
To say that Alexander reciprocated his feelings would mean to say nothing. He loved the dog in a tender and touching way parents love their children. When he was away over a long period of time he rang home every evening and asked, 'How're things with Fred?' When he came back home he would open the door, take the dog by its neck, touch its soft hair with his lips and kiss its cold nose.
Alexander's parents always kept dogs. Dogs are best helpers in the village. They guard the house, scare away uninvited guests, help to pasture cattle and look after a child when parents happen to leave him alone for a while. Dogs kept in town have another way of life and another destiny. They're usually taken as a child's play. However, far from every teenager wants to carry the burden of looking after a dog, namely, to walk it several times a day, to comb out hair in time of spring and autumn fall off, to see there's always some water in the dog's cup and to tidy up after the dog when necessary. Finally the four-footed creature that had recently been admired by the whole of the family turns into a burden. Many people solve the problem by taking the dog many kilometers away from home and leaving it to the mercy of fate there or by putting their pet down.
After they hastily withdrew Soviet troops from the Democratic Republic of Germany when the country was united hundreds of dogs in the town of Vyunsdorf were abandoned overnight. At first they didn't believe their masters had betrayed them so in the mornings they often gathered at the railway station, carefully examined every passenger looking for their masters and made for deserted houses at night. Their shrill whining could be heard in the neighborhood. This shattered the peace and quiet of the local inhabitants. Besides, the dogs that grew emaciated with undernourishment and maddened with loneliness turned into a danger to kids so practical Germans finished their brief and unhappy lives without a pang and pity.
Fred's life went a different way. Rudnev brought Fred as a birthday present for his daughter. Every year on June 21 on his daughter's birthday he got onto the earliest train, got out of it at the most distant exchange and came back home before she woke up with a huge armful of wild flowers. She opened her eyes and imagined she was at a meadow with a lot of flowers growing there. The flowers were everywhere - on the table, on the windowsill, on the wardrobe, on the floor. There were blue cornflowers, chamomiles, buttercups, kiss-me-quicks and others. She didn't know the names of many flowers. She had to think over her itinerary carefully not to trample down this carpet of flowers.
When Inessa came of age Rudnev brought her a dog she had been dreaming about since childhood as a birthday present. A friend of his had a pure-bred sheep dog that had had ten puppies before. They were so cute Alexander was at a loss which one to take. The would-be Fred attracted everybody's attention. He awkwardly hobbled on his weak legs to Alexander, looked into his eyes and thus resolved all doubts.
-Sonny, dear, come up here!
Fred remained a 'sonny' for Rudnev for the rest of its life. Even some disagreements couldn't affect their touching relationship. One winter the dog broke its hind leg above the knee joint when romping in the ice-coated yard. The dog could remain crippled for the rest of his life. When Alexander found this out he almost lost his consciousness.
At the pet hospital they refused to operate on the dog.
-The case is very serious. The dog is unlikely to survive after the operation.
An old vet they managed to find after inquiring all neighbors and acquaintances waved his head sadly.
-You'd better put it down, dear. It's going to be a hard job nursing it back to health.
However, when the vet saw tears in Rudnev's eyes he hastily changed his mind.
-OK, OK, I'll operate on the dog but I don't guarantee anything.
Rudnev turned his kitchen into an operating theatre and treated it with a quartz lamp for twenty-four hours just like the vet ordered. During the operation he bit his lips to hold back his groan and stood at the dog holding it and quieting it as if it were a child. When the anesthetic stopped working Fred came to itself. They looked into each others' eyes and it was difficult to say whom it hurt more.
The broken bone knitted for a long time. Throughout many months Rudnev was nursing the dog back to health, carried it in his arms outside, woke up at night whenever he heard some rustle and carefully treated its wound because he didn't trust anybody with this. When the dog walked on the hurt leg for the first time Rudnev was happy.
Alexander saved Fred's life. Fred, in its turn, once warned Alexander about serious illness.
Rudnev had been feeling unwell for some time. He was tired even after he had had a good sleep. It seemed as if he had been doing some hard physical work. His heart lapsed into arrhythmia. He stuffed himself with different tranquillizers and took heart drugs Validol and Valokordin. Nothing helped. He should have gone to an outpatients' clinic to have a medical check-up but when he imagined queuing for many hours Alexander put off the visit. One day when Fred was playing with him it scratched his leg. The same had happened before more than once. Rudnev never paid any attention to his scratched legs and arms. This time there was a small wound that didn't heal for a long time. He tried to apply different ointments but they didn't work. Later his leg got swollen and turned violet blue. Alexander remembered something of the kind had happened when he was young and got frightened. They decided it was erysipelas and found some soothsayer. She took the money muttered something over his leg, promised the illness would vanish away by the morning as if by magic and withdrew. In the morning he felt even worse. The ambulance man didn't hesitate a moment and took him urgently to infectious diseases hospital. The tests showed supernormal blood sugar. The word 'diabetes' sounded like a verdict.
When his attending medical doctor discharged Rudnev from hospital he said, 'You should thank your pet. If it hadn't been for its naughtiness you would have neglected your case to a critical point…'
Psychic setup of dogs differs very little from human one. They both have their mood swings, their joys and sorrows. As far as jealousy is concerned dogs even excel their masters in this respect. They were aware of this feature so they tried to keep the mature dog in the hall in order not to provoke these fits. Inessa neglected this rule once. She forgot to lead Fred out of the room when she was going to massage her father's neck. Hardly had she approached Alexander who was lying flat on his back when Fred jumped onto him. Rudnev defended himself by seizing its mouth to prevent the dog from opening the jaws. He managed to rise off the bed, to drag the growling dog into another room and lock him there. The dog came to itself three days later. It rejected any food and didn't sleep a wink in these three days. It was dangerous to walk into the room so Alexander pushed a plate of Fred's favorite beef with a stick and begged it, 'Have at least a piece, please. Don't be angry with me. We're friends…'
When Fred was ten years old it weakened significantly. Its hind legs failed him, it could hardly walk itself. When they were coming back after a walk Rudnev cheered up the dog, 'Well, make one more step… That's it… Well done! Now another step…'
When the dog climbed the staircase it stopped to recover its breath and looked back at the master as if seeking some approval.
One morning Fred couldn't get up. Rudnev asked his daughter or some of the neighbors to help him carry the dog for a walk in a stretcher. This continued for several months. The whole of the house watched these striking scenes. Some people disapproved of Rudnev saying, 'Why should he torture the dog?' Others, on the contrary, marveled at his care about the poor animal.
When Fred died Rudnev fell into a trance for some days. He buried his pet in a wooden coffin and put an icon at its head as if it were a human being. Rudnev's relatives were concerned about his state of mind so they did their best to distract him from his sad thoughts but in vain. Alexander didn't keep up the talks that nothing is eternal on the Earth and that Fred had lived a happy life. It was evident the fact didn't console him at all. That is why when exhilarated Rudnev phoned his friend one day and promised to come to his place in half an hour with some surprise the man was glad that things were improving. When Alexander appeared he was smiling mysteriously holding something behind his back. He made a step aside and it seemed to his friend he saw … Fred who was safe and sound. Of course this was another dog that looked just like the one that had died. It turned out Rudnev had spent many hours visiting markets and thousands of people who reared dogs until he found Fred's double…

***
After his failure in the political walk of life the question about what to do next aroused in Rudnev's mind once again. It would be illogical to get back to the university after he had left it voluntarily. Besides, there were no more people there who appreciated his teaching talent. After Abetsedarsky and Sikorsky had died the golden age of the Byelorussian State University was declining slowly. Those people for whom furniture in their offices was more important than the work done started to play first fiddle.
One of his acquaintances advised him, 'You should go into business. Have a look at those who drive 'Mercedes 'and 'Volvo' cars. They're your former students. They're ignoramus compared to you but they have managed to knock up a fortune.'
The idea seemed to be quite good. Moreover, it reflected the spirit of the times. Sometimes one had an impression the whole of the nation turned into hucksters. Teachers, doctors and engineers who got convinced their favorite jobs couldn't provide them with at least minimum of subsistence registered themselves as individual entrepreneurs, set up limited liability companies, bought cheap consumer goods in Belarus, brought them to Poland where they were much more expensive and returned to Belarus with fashionable clothes. Liberal laws and utter confusion created favorable conditions for operators and profiteers. There mushroomed booths in the streets of towns. The stadium 'Dinamo' where one could observe football passions raging turned into a market.
There were not many options to choose from. Rudnev was too proud to deal in shuttle trade like many of his acquaintances did. He didn't have any faculty for financial profiteering; besides, he had distaste for it. There were a lot of money rates owing to the acute shortage of hard currency in Belarus. According to government's decision dollars were sold to major enterprise forming company towns at the most favorable rate. Those that made a less significant contribution to national budget acquired currency necessary to purchase raw produce and materials abroad at much higher rates; moreover, they had to queue for many months. The population that realized it was dollar that could be considered national currency could buy only some wretched fragments at an exorbitant rate. Enterprising young people among whom Rudnev saw many of his former students made use of the situation. In the mid-nineties one could see crowds of moneychangers hanging about near markets and big shops who offered to buy Byelorussian rubles for hard currency and vice versa at a more attractive rate than currency exchange offices did. Militia carried out mop-ups from time to time but financial swindlers didn't disappear. Moreover, they worked out security system of their own. Clients phoned the number they got by through their personal connections and arrived at an appointed time in a stipulated place. After the moneychanger made sure the clients hadn't been put a tail on they settled a mutually profitable bargain.
Rudnev pondered and registered scientific and technical company 'Zenit-91.' It was necessary to refer to the year of registration because there was another company that had the same name established by a former first secretary of the Minsk city committee of the Communist Party of Byelorussia. This was quite symbolic. Party bosses who cut the ground from under the feet of business and who expelled communists from the party for a bunch of carrots sold at a kolkhoz market turned into the new rich by pulling strings and frequently by using public money. It goes without saying rumors about 'party gold' were exaggerated. Nevertheless, the fact party functionaries made use of the money as initial capital and managed to seize leading positions and even to become monopolists at the merging home market. Rudnev got involved in the work some of his acquaintances who were university teachers and published several guides for university applicants. The gains were not up to much. However, they were enough for a living.
If it hadn't been for one encounter Rudnev could become one of national major publishers as he had all intellectual and logistical prerequisites for this. Besides, information market was quite free at the time. A former acquaintance Alexander got on with invited him for a talk once. The man worked for the KGB. They met in the country at the forest edge in secrecy. The man complained the work was becoming more burdensome and dangerous because deputies who belong to the Byelorussian Popular Front speak quite openly about passing 'The law on disclosure of personal files' and asked in a conspiratorial voice
-How do you think people make big money nowadays?
-Well, I don't know… Perhaps by selling drugs or weapons… This may lead them straight to prison.
-That's it. However, there's another way to grow rich though it's not absolutely safe. Moreover, what is at issue is tens and even hundreds thousand dollars.
-Come on, I don't believe you1 Don't tell me tales! Although I'm not a very big businessman I've learnt there's no easy money. The field of the fools where one could bury a coin just like the fat cat did to grow a tree with a lot of coins on it by the morning is only a fairy tale.
-Well, I'm not joking. I've been to Moscow recently. My friends introduced me to some enterprising people who work for defense industry. These people organized trade of rare-earth metals such as zirconium, indium and what not. Scandium and red mercury are in especially great demand. Frankly speaking I don't even know what kind of metals are these. The matter is that people pay incredible money to buy them. A gram of 'red mercury', for example, costs hundreds thousand dollars abroad. It goes without saying we won't be able to force our way through to sell the marketable metals abroad but we may do this with the help of resellers. We won't come off the loser. To cut a long story short, you've got a company and I have a way to contact Muscovites. I emphasize we speak about absolutely legal deals that imply contracts, quality certificates and the like. At first we'll take some harmless metals and check how it works. We'll find clients and then we'll see.
The man saw Rudnev was in two minds so he started to paint bright prospects.
-Just think, we're going to be millionaires in a year. We'll open a bank account in a Swiss bank. We may even keep money in cash. It's safe but we won't yield any interest. We'll buy mansions somewhere in Nice and we'll live in clover.
-It seems to me this is sheer adventurism.
-Well, doubting Thomas, I know some people who have fixed it up more than once.
-Well then, we may try but only on condition this is going to be a formal deal.
-Well, chap, I'll take the issues upon myself. What you have to do is to go to Moscow and bring the metals and the necessary documents from there. I'll try to find you some clients. We take control of people like these.
-Aha, then you'll hook me, too!
-Don't be afraid. You're one of us. You still enjoy our trust though you escaped. If necessary we'll protect you from cops…
Several weeks later Rudnev set out for Moscow. Everything was indeed organized in an official way. He was received in some research laboratory and shown the production. They showed him a license to trade rare-earth metals. He was handed over a sealed contract. Alexander read it through carefully, didn't notice any catches and signed it. Quality certificates that had all necessary seals and requisites were available, too. All metals easily went into a case.
'If the first transaction is a success you may expect to co-operate with us,' Rudnev was assured by laboratory staff.
Alexander was coming back home with a light heart. Little by little he was beginning to believe the bright prospects. You never can tell! There had appeared so many millionaires before! Why couldn't he be one of their numbers? It may well be so God might wish to make up to him for his suffering…
Selling metals went very slowly. The clients his acquaintance brought turned out to be ordinary resellers. They bargained their commission charges for hours but when it came to the point there emerged some complications and unexpected developments. Rudnev didn't have the slightest idea about the market. After a while they inquired from Moscow about the state of things. When they found out he hadn't managed to work off the metal they advised him to be in hurry. One could hear distinct metallic notes in the voice of the man talking; there were no traces left of the former politeness. There followed new calls and the situation was getting more and more alarming.
Rudnev's companion got away with some lame excuses several times before they finally met. He looked very anxious, too.
-Sasha, to tell the truth, I didn't think we were going to have such a mess. I was told rare-earth metals sell like hot cakes.
-What shall we do now? You assured me I was going to be a messenger only but it seems now I'll be the one left holding the baby. I see the people aren't joking at all. Suppose they come here to have some show-down?
-I don't think so. You haven't robbed them. You just can't work off the metals.
Rudnev's nerves were beginning to fail. He realized he was in for a big trouble and that his friend was likely to prefer to try to get out of the situation under some plausible pretext. Rudnev turned out to be quite right apprehending this…
Some days later he had a long-distance call. A stranger asked who he was talking to and warned, 'You should be on-site tomorrow. We're coming from Moscow to you. We'll give you all details when we arrive in Minsk…'
Rudnev was no coward but this time he was really afraid. It wasn't very difficult to understand what he was in for. He didn't doubt he was going to meet chucker-outs hired by the people he had made an agreement with. This had already become a sort of well-paid job that former militiamen and sportsmen agreed to do willingly. These people were used to beating up or even killing a person. This was a common practice when a businessman who lost hope to be given back his money or goods had hired a group disguised as some limited company. As a rule these people were paid half or a third of the sum owed. The means of 'persuasion' were chosen by the executors themselves depending on conditions. The newspapers carried screaming stories on how obstinate debtors were punished.
There was no time left for reflection. Besides, what could he do under the circumstances? It was useless to try to escape. They would find him sooner or later and this would only aggravate the situation. There was no use of going to militia and asking for protection. They could just make fun of him there because there was no any direct threat. Even if there was one who could prove this? Militia men turn their backs on written requests like these even when danger is obvious because they need to see real activities confirmed by documents and testimony of witnesses that fall under the criminal code. The intentions to commit the actions can't be made use of!
Rudnev's companion didn't answer his phone calls. He must have had some caller ID device. Thanks God, Alexander knew his address.
The host opened the door. He was wearing a dressing gown and his hair was messy. He must have been lying on the sofa in front of the television. He saw Rudnev and pretended to be extremely surprised.
-Is that you?
He hesitated for a moment pondering whether to invite the guest in or not and then reluctantly stepped aside.
-Come into the kitchen but don't make any noise because my wife's going to bed.
'Kolya, who's there?' they heard an imperious voice.
-That's a neighbor of ours. Go to bed, will you?
-Don't stay too long and make sure not to touch the bottle of vodka in the fridge because I've laid it up for some other purposes.
-OK, OK… She's shepherding me as if I were a teenager. She doesn't let me make a single step on my own. The host felt awkward about the weakness he displayed, so he pointed at the fridge and whispered, 'Shall we have a little drink? I'll add some water to vodka so she's not going to find out.'
-You know I don't drink.
They kept silent. The awkward silence was becoming oppressive. The host was tapping his fingers on the table waiting for Alexander's explanations. One could easily see he regretted it wasn't his wife who opened Rudnev the door. She could tell him he was out then and thus prevent this unpleasant talk. Alexander was beginning to understand his coming here was senseless. He didn't know what to begin the talk with.
'They're coming,' he finally said in a whisper.
-When?
-Tomorrow…
They kept silent again.
-Will you accompany me to the meeting?
Rudnev looked at his companion hopefully.
-Kolya, are you going to be back soon?
The question of the host's wife was an escape to him.
-She won't give us a chance to talk! Listen let's discuss this tomorrow, with a fresh head.
-When are we going to this tomorrow? They're coming early and they won't be idling their time away in a hotel. Tell me frankly right now if you'll go with me or not.
The face of the host was distorted with unfeigned pain. He took a misted bottle of vodka out of the fridge, poured in half a glass and drank it at a gulp glancing back at the door stealthily. He put the bottle back and started chewing a piece of bread slowly to gain time.
-You see… I could accompany you… But I think it would only make matters worse. Witnesses are undesirable when it comes to situations like these. Have a heart-to-heart talk with them. Explain the situation. You are good at doing this. As far as I'm concerned my involvement in the KGB shows itself vividly. They will figure me out at once. Only God knows what's on their minds!
-Aha, you're afraid for your own dear self so you're sending me to the scaffold.
It was senseless to continue the talk. Rudnev rose up and left without saying goodbye.
His flat was almost at the other end of the city. He didn't take a bus. He was walking home without noticing people around and being aware what time it was. When he came home he fell onto the sofa as of shot without taking off his clothes and footwear.
He was woken up by a phone call in the morning. 'They've arrived,' Rudnev realized.
-The hotel 'Belarus', room 315. We're meeting at midday sharp. Late arrival will be regarded as an attempt to escape.
He didn't even have time to say a word. He heard short beeps at the other end of the telephone…
'At least we aren't meeting in a motel,' Rudnev consoled himself when he was approaching the hotel 'Belarus'. The country motel was unofficial headquarters of the Minsk criminal group. Its leaders had gatherings with visiting underworld leaders there. They also had it out with each other and gave banquets in honor of each other's birthdays. To have an appointment in the motel in the cases like Rudnev's meant a person was going to be knifed. To all appearances, Muscovites were not going to kill him. Alexander hoped they could settle the matter peacefully. Instead of the companion who had let him down he asked an acquaintance of his to accompany him. He didn't go into any details of the forthcoming rendezvous and merely asked the man, 'Will you just wait for me in the hotel hall? If they ask you what you are doing say you're waiting for a friend.'
It was a poor way to safeguard against trouble. Nevertheless, Rudnev supposed the visitors wouldn't venture any radical measures in the presence of outsiders.
A tall man opened the door of the room.
-Rudnev?
-I am.
-Come in.
There were two more men in the room. One of them stood facing the window; the second one was looking through a magazine. There was an open bottle of 'Gzhelka' vodka on the table, a glass of vodka half full and covered with a piece of brown bread just like they do at a funeral feast in memory of a man who died. When Rudnev saw the glass everything went dark before his eyes. His reaction was noticed.
-You understand everything right, pal. If we don't come to an agreement we'll drink in your memory because we won't have time to bother ourselves with this afterwards… Well, take a seat and tell us what you've come down to. Would you like to brace up?
-I don't drink.
-That's a good thing. Only morons and aristocrats drink in the morning. You don't look like a moron. They say you're an associate professor. However, you fall a bit short of an aristocrat because they always keep their promise while you've made up your mind to let down your accomplices.
Rudnev wasn't trained to be a psychologist but he knew people quite well and he was good at predicting their behavior. His shock was over. He came to himself and realized the guests are counting on his fear. According to yardsticks of the underworld the amount he owed was not big so it didn't imply any austerity measures. Now he considered the trick with a glass of vodka to be rather primitive.
-Will you offer me at least to sit down?
The three men stared at him with curiosity.
-Well, take a seat if you feel tired. However, it's the wrong time for us to stay with you too long. Just pay cash down and there's an end to it!
-First I'd like to explain…
The man who opened Rudnev the door interrupted him brusquely.
-You must have failed to get the situation, chap. We are here to receive money rather than to listen to your explanations. Have you got the money on you?
-I haven't but…
-We don't want to listen to any 'but'. As they say 'Your money or your life!'
-Max, wait a little. Let's listen to what he's going to prattle. We'll always have a chance to give him some hard time. There's a lot of time left before the departure of our train.
The words belonged to the one standing at the window. Frankly speaking, Alexander didn't know how to explain to these chucker-outs he had been doing his best to meet the engagements and that it wasn't his fault there were no buyers for expensive metals. He took the contract and the quality certificate out of his case and began to look through them slowly thinking feverishly about what to say. His eye suddenly caught at the indices. My God, how did he fail to notice this before? The quality indices in the contract and in the certificate differed. The figure in the contract was 99.99 while the certificate gave the figure 98.99. The typist might have made a misprint. The quality certificate was made up in the same laboratory so anyone could include any figure in it. He had looked through the papers many times but he had never found time for reading them carefully!
-Why are you keeping silent? You don't know how to get out of it, do you? Don't even think of it! If you don't give the money right now you'll have to give twice as much in a week. We don't give a damn about it where you'll get the dough from. You may sell your flat, your car or even rob a bank… The papers you're holding put down in black and white you had to pay back the money a month ago. Is it true?
-It is.
-What's up, then? Why do you try to appear as a virgin?
-The thing is that there's something else put down in the papers.
-What is it? Seriy, what he's mumbling about?
-The contract signed by those who had sent you here says that purity of metals should be 99.99. Have a look… The quality certificate they gave me gives the figure 98.99. Do you see? What's the problem then, guys? They palmed off on me some rubbish and they want me to sell it as if it were goods of full value.
The visitors were unlikely to expect the turnabout like this. They passed the contract and the quality certificate to each other several times and couldn't believe their eyes. Their reaction convinced Rudnev the danger was past. God helped him out of the trouble.
-Well, chaps. Here's the metal. If you want you may weigh it. Tell you clients that people who respect themselves don't behave like this. They must have thought there were only gudgeons in Minsk who wouldn't be able to distinguish pure metal from substitute!
After the adventure with selling rare-earth metals Rudnev took the pledge never to deal in any trade. Now the question of what to do next faced him again.

***
In early 1990s in Belarus they started to establish private educational establishments. The state higher education system was difficult to reform. Both Gorbachev's perestroika and the USSR collapse failed to influence it significantly. Higher educational establishments went on chumming out specialists according to old teaching methods with no account of both labor market changes and motivation of applicants. They changed only formal entourage. A wave of renaming educational establishments swept over the country like flu epidemic. Institutes suddenly turned into academies and universities, secondary schools became lyceums while vocational schools and technical secondary schools started to be called colleges. The reformers just blindly borrowed Western experience thinking the change of signboards will improve the image of higher education in Belarus and make national diplomas valid in the west. The changes did nothing but bring in confusion. When applicants were looking through special guides they always specified what name the establishments had had before.
The way to private education in Belarus was beaten by Professor of the Byelorussian State University Alexander Shirokov. The Institute of contemporary knowledge he established in 1990 gained popularity quickly. Although conditions were much worse than those in state higher educational establishments because the institute rented a building that used to be a kindergarten the youth were attracted by new specialties, authentic educational package and a new approach to giving material. Most of the teachers combined jobs and gave lectures in their free time. However, when they were given freedom of choice they treated their work not as an ordinary sideline but as a way to show their worth. Instead of mechanical recounting information and coaching for a result during hands-on training they started to apply interactive methods and make students do some conscious independent work. Both seminars and lectures turned into a captivating dialogue where everyone was encouraged to participate in.
The example of Alexander Shirokov turned out to be catching. Many people were attracted by financial prospects the sphere involved. Some people staked entirely on this aspect. Some private higher educational establishments remained on paper only while they actually were a multi-branch system of primitive coaching. Founders registered some institute in Minsk they opened its branches in regional centers and major towns. School-leavers who had satisfactory marks in their school leaving certificates and who could expect to be admitted only to vocational schools in Soviet times flooded these pseudo-higher educational establishments trying to escape the service in the army. Though it was uncommon for parents who still lived according to Soviet concepts to pay for their children to be educated they willingly forked out their money for the sake of the children. They didn't realize they pour money down the drain for sham diplomas.
After they found out Alexander Rudnev didn't have any permanent job some people offered him the post of a pro-rector at an institute registered by a former minister of housing and communal services of Belarus. He was a talented manager who had been given a number of USSR government awards for his work and who had quite a vague idea about higher education system. The man confided in his former driver, made him a co-founder and entrusted him with all organizational issues. This very driver man got Rudnev involved in the work because he hoped Alexander would help organize academic process properly as he knew absolutely nothing about it.
Alexander got down the work enthusiastically just like he always did. Very soon he got convinced he would have to turn a new leaf. The teaching staff vacancies there were only partially filled. Due to the shortage of specialists some teachers gave lectures in the courses that were not their subject area. They didn't have any educational package. The schedule was planned by eye. If a teacher arrived they put his subjects on the schedule, if he was late for some reason they substituted it for another. Classes never started on time and they were over earlier than it was necessary. Students often loitered their time away in the institute's yard.
After Rudnev made a clear picture of how academic process was organized there he came to founder's office.
-Saveliy Ksenophontovich, I understand you are a busy man and you didn't have time to go to the root of the matter but I have to warn you your institute is a forged one.
The founder was looking at Rudnev in a crazy way.
-The classes are organized in a primitive manner. The very first inspection may end in your license being revoked. We're speaking about your head institute now. I can just imagine what's happening in the branches. You ran a great risk when you began the academic year. It will take at least half a year to put things in order there… I hear you've announced opening some more branches. May you suspend the process?
-The issue is outside your competence. You say there's no educational package. You should work it out, then. The schedule isn't planned properly, is it? Make it up! If you don't have enough qualified personnel you should look for them! You've been hired to solve the matters. Let me settle other problems on my own. I don't need anybody's advice. Every new branch means additional money. Should I pour it down the drain, you think?
-Suppose an inspection comes out of the blue one day?
-It won't. We've got everybody in our pocket.
-Students or their parents might complain. I hear some of them are displeased.
-You should send all faultfinders to my office. I'll knock some sense into their heads! How they dare be displeased when we help them to dodge the army?
-People pay big money so they have the right to demand to be given full-fledged education.
-Why don't you organize it, then? Stop panicking. Our institute is not worse than any other. We're going to develop…
The talk produced a painful impression over Rudnev. He was convinced the founder is interested in money only. The man was none too clever but he had a pronounced dealer's eye so he approached establishing the institute from the viewpoint of the wild market that existed in Belarus at the time. If people offer their money you should take it! You should do this by any means without burdening yourself by any moral postulates. Life will make all necessary amendments afterwards.
It goes without saying Alexander didn't approve of the approach to work like this. He was used to doing a good job of everything. Though the enthusiasm he displayed when he came to work at the institute was gradually dying away he decided to get down to the work in earnest. He got standard educational package at the university, distributed it among teachers and asked them to prepare educational package of their own at the earliest possible date. He nominated some new deans and heads of chair. He established tough work schedule and reprimanded the staff severely for being late. He visited lectures and made sure some of them were beneath any criticism. After a staff meeting when Rudnev made a frank progress review and criticized the staff some lectures voluntarily terminated their employment contracts. When the founder learnt this he called Rudnev to his office.
-You are going to drive away all teachers! What did I ask you to do? I asked you to organize the academic process and to introduce proper order in papers. Personnel matters are none of your business! Now look here… I have invited the teachers who handed in applications asking to terminate their employment contracts. You should apologize to them.
-Why should I?
-Be cause your criticism was ungrounded.
-Why do you consider it to be ungrounded? I kept to the point and my speech was well-reasoned.
-It doesn't matter! All of then are respected people. They might fall short of their target but you can't behave like this, anyway! You shouldn't have criticized them in public. You should have had a heart-to-heart talk with each of them and advised them what should be done…
-I won't go back on my words and I'm not going to apologize.
-Then I don't think there are any more sufficient reasons for you to work here.
-It's up to you to decide, Saveliy Ksenophontovich. Just bear in mind that by indulging hack workers you cross up the institute. This is not the end of the affair!..
After he had worked for three months Rudnev made sure the founder was not going to change anything. Moreover, Alexander witnessed some wheeler-dealer finance so he gave up his job at the institute. His predictions turned out to come true. After the Ministry for Education resolved to apply single state standards to all higher educational institutions some of them failed to prove they were up to quality so their licenses were terminated, the institute where Rudnev had worked was among them.

***
Several years after he graduated from university Alexander went to do some seasonal construction job in summer. However, after he developed some health problems the way of earning money became irrelevant.
Rudnev shifted his unspent love to his daughter. Every time he went somewhere on business he came back with presents for his daughter. First these were toys, then he brought fashionable clothes, footwear, perfume and jewelry. Alexander knew women's wardrobe and make-up in their all minutest details.
When Inessa grew up he sent her to music school. Though his daughter wasn't notable for any special abilities for music Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' performed by Inessa seemed to be the pink of perfection. In the evenings they frequently sang their favorite songs together.
Every summer Rudnev who took care of his daughter's health brought her to his parents who doted upon their granddaughter. Inessa became extremely attached to her grandfather. They went to the hayfield together and carried grass to the farm. Dairymaids got used to her and allowed her to step in for them. By the beginning of school year Inessa came back home suntanned and with some weight gained.
For some time his daughter was keen on figure skating and free calisthenics. Then she suddenly lost interest in these activities. Then Alexander noticed Inessa came home extremely preoccupied. Her attitude to studies had changed, too. She was given marks that were not inline with her potential. Alexander tried to have a frank talk with his daughter but she dodged alleging she was tired. Alexander watched Inessa's behavior more closely and noticed she was secretly taking money for some needs. Their common family fund had never been under seven seals and each family member could take money without asking. However, the rule was to tell what the money had been spent on. This time Inessa didn't manage to keep silent. She confessed to falling under the influence of some senior boys who blackmailed her and demanded to steal money from her parents. The talk to the teenagers took effect so they left Inessa alone.
However, the time had been missed. Alexander realized his daughter was not going to finish school with distinction. If she did she would have to take just one exam when entering university. The academic load was so serious it almost ruled out any chance to prepare properly in all the subjects. The daughter influenced by her father made up her mind to enter Philosophy Department at the University. She had to take four exams, namely, an essay, and exams in a foreign language, in social science and mathematics. The last subject was his daughter's Achilles' heel. Rudnev was indignant at heart because he didn't understand why philosophers and lawyers needed mathematics. He even asked a selection committee the question once. They answered, 'The officials at the Ministry for Education consider this to be important to develop logical thinking.' Alexander ventured to take quite a risky step. He transferred his daughter from day school to evening school. The academic load was less there as they had to study ten years instead of eleven. Inessa looked a leading figure against the background of most pupils who didn't surpass her in knowledge and who received secondary education perforce so she didn't find it too difficult to receive good marks. She could now give her free time to reading for entrance exams at university.
The daughter's mother gave a hostile reception to Alexander's decision.
-You're so selfish! You deprive your daughter of the most important celebration in her life! I mean a school-leaving party…
'I might,' Rudnev agreed. 'Instead, I'm giving her some future and rule out failure at the entrance exams. Do you think they will give good marks at the exams only out of respect to you? Rather, they will try to fail her. This runs in blood of our people. The worse is their neighbor's life the better they feel! You know this perfectly well.'
Rudnev turned out to be right. As the topic for her composition Inessa chose the most difficult one out of those suggested. In her essay she analyzed the novel by Dostoyevsky 'Crime and Punishment.' Applicants usually take up the familiar essay where they don't need to display any specific knowledge. What they need is general education level and the ability to articulate their ideas skillfully. The novel by Dostoyevsky with a lot of notes in pencil made by the daughter is still kept in Rudnev's home library. Members of the selection committee read her composition almost to tatters and smudges but they failed to find any faults with it. It turned out to be immaculate from the point of view of both its content and its grammatical correctness. Inessa passed the rest of her exams, except mathematics, with excellent marks. The only 'four' didn't prevent her from entering university at the first try.
When his daughter graduated from university she left for Moscow where she received another higher education. She became a qualified psychoanalyst. The rare qualification is in great demand nowadays because the society has been incurably ill for a long time. It may well be so that it would be psychoanalysts rather than ideologists who could suggest the society the way out of the ideological and moral deadlock and help the nation to get back to the spiritual sources of their forefathers.
His daughter's early marriage upset Rudnev. However, his apprehensions it would prevent his daughter to make a career didn't come true. She stayed in Moscow, got a good job and seemed to be happy.

***
Another moment of happiness in Rudnev's dramatic life, apart from his daughter's birth, was the birth of his grandson. Rudnev's authority in the family is unshakeable. When Inessa got married she kept her maiden name because she knew her father would be pleased. When he hinted he would like to have one more Alexander in the family Inessa carried on the family tradition and named the boy after her father although her mother offered to name the grandson Mark after her father. Alexander the senior has got a secret hope that when his grandson comes of age he would prefer to have a double surname, that of his mother's and father's. However, he prefers not to speak the idea out in order not to hurt his son-in-law's feelings.
Alexander the junior grows up clever and keen-witted. When he was a year and a month he knew half the alphabet. A bit later he displayed abilities in mathematics. Frankly speaking, Alexander the senior would like his grandson to follow his path. However, the boy took after his father, so Rudnev finally had to put up with this. Still, he keeps under tough control his grandson's moral education. He's a believer; he begins and finishes every day of his life with a prayer. He also addresses God before beginning some important projects. There are icons in places of honor in all rooms of his house. They're also an institution in his car.
The daughter follows her father's example and says prayers in the morning and in the evening. She goes to church on religious holidays. Alexander the junior is gradually familiarizing with this, too. Inessa told him more than once, 'Your grandfather grew up in a very poor family but he turned into an outstanding and respected man. Who do you think has helped him to?' She answered the question herself, 'God did.'
The boy couldn't understand how somebody no one has ever seen could help his 'big grandpa'. However, he believed his mother and willingly repeated the words of a prayer.
Rudnev's attempt to cultivate in his grandson another family tradition failed. In Polesye in 1940s and 1950s where he spent his childhood there was a rule to address parents in a polite manner. This was a way to emphasize respect of children to their father and mother. Nowadays the ancient Slavonic tradition has almost disappeared. Rudnev considers this to be wrong and he always brings home to his grandson that addressing grown-ups even if they are relatives in a less polite way is a sign of bad manners. To train Alexander the junior to the unusual form of the family etiquette he always addresses him in a polite way. He used to phone to Moscow almost every day and ask his grandson strictly, 'Well, Alexander, how are things with you? Have you done any good cause today?'
The strict manner of the grandmother isn't to the eleven-year-old teenager's liking. He tries to slip away from the questioning. However, it doesn't affect their friendly relations. The boy loves his 'big grandpa' very much and willingly lets him into his secrets. Some time ago Inessa's family moved to Minsk from Moscow to reside here. Now Alexander has an opportunity to see more of his grandson the granddaughter Katiusha who was given birth to about three years ago…
Rudnev's faith in God differs significantly from usual forms of manifesting religiousness. He considers it to be a great mystery that nobody can be let into and that shouldn't be flaunted. He thinks going to church is merely entourage because a prayer could be offered up at home. Besides, some priests wallow in sin and treat church service as if it were some ordinary secular ceremony. They have lost the right to be mediators between God and His flock. However, undereducated people find it difficult to understand so they still go to church on high days and holidays because they think they could be heard there.
Rudnev considers the fact that building churches and temples has turned into a fashion and that people whose intentions are far from being frank and pure occupy themselves with this to be immoral. He is of the same opinion of those priests who participate in secular activity and don't find it disgraceful to be awarded by temporal power. The best gift for a believer is the grace of God while orders, titles and ranks are despicable tinsel.
When a child Alexander learnt his mother brought him to church to be baptized secretly from the father who was a militant atheist but he never confessed to it. He kept the secret when he was a Komsomol member and when he joined the party. The faith in God and the faith in communist ideals were combined in his mind because Rudnev was convinced of their identity.
He knew the Bible quite well so he noticed easily the Moral code of a communism builder that could be found in every educational establishment in the Soviet time was copied off from the Holy Book and modified a little to suit the requirements of the time.
The news the church in Zhitkovichy had been burnt down was a heavy blow to Rudnev. It was rumored it had been done by Communists. He visited his home and made sure the fire didn't spare the building but the icons were left intact by some miracle. Only their frames were burnt on the edges.
'How can you account for the miracle, father?' he asked the priest he respected very much.
'God's creations and everything that represents him on the earth are imperishable, my son,' father Leonid explained.
The words sank home. At the time he was head of the company 'Zenit 91'. Although the money gained from selling teaching aids would have come in handy for his family Alexander transferred most of it to the church bank account without giving his name. However, the priest astonished by the generous gift might have found out his name so one day he phoned Rudnev. Alexander who was extremely embarrassed asked, 'Father Leonid, just because I consider my donation to be extremely modest I'd like to find out how much you would cope to do with the money?'
-The sum will be enough to roof the church. However, it's not the amount you donate that is important but the fact it was an open-hearted donation.
Afterwards Rudnev frequently made donations to churches. He never rejected requests of a priest in Lepel church where parents of his son-in-law lived. He also donated to the church in Lelchitsy. Alexander considers the money spent on the cause the wisest investment.

 

BRAINCHILD

After he gave up work at the institute Alexander Rudnev once again faced the agonizing question 'What to do next?' The question had haunted him like a curse. Many of his university friends who found themselves in a similar situation lost faith in themselves once and for all, drifted, ruined themselves by drinking, lapsed and gradually turned into people without any place of residence and work. He encountered one of them in Nezavisimosty Avenue. The down-and-out overgrown with hair was wearing a dirty shirt outside his worn patched jeans. He exhaled the smell that even exhausts of cars passing by couldn't suppress. Rudnev slipped a note into the stretched out hand and hastened to pass by. He suddenly heard a familiar voice, 'Why do you have your nose in the air, Sashok? You don't know your old friends?'
Rudnev who was taken aback stopped and looked into the face covered with thick bristle. Indeed, the down-and-out reminded him of a students who studied in the same year. He used to be one of the outstanding figures at their department. He wasn't extremely good at studies but his clothes were all the rage. He didn't use the traditional scents like 'Shipr' or 'Troinoi odekolon' that were an institution at any barber's. Instead, he used some expensive French scent. He had a crocodile leather case where he kept a Japanese holding umbrella in case it should rain. He behaved in the hostel as if it were a palace of Arab sheikhs rather than a standardized five-storey building of the Khrushchev era. He placed into the room without any conveniences that could hardly accommodate six people a hired TV set and a radio and record player and drew expensive blinds on the windows. Unlike most guys who wore tracksuit trousers after their classes he had a luxurious terry dressing gown on. It was impossible to obtain the things even in the shops 'Beryozka' where goods could be obtained by checks. Everything was brought by his relatives who held a contract in some exotic Oriental country.
After he graduated from university the dandy got married to a daughter of an outstanding party functionary and made a swift career. He was editor-in-chief of a popular youth newspaper, wrote some verses and even published a collection of his poetry…
Horrified Rudnev looked at the former acquaintance and thought he would be in his place if he hadn't been able to master sufficient strength to give up alcohol.
-Sorry, I didn't recognize you. So much time has passed!
Rudnev tried to pass by but the man grabbed him by the flap of his jacket.
-I hear you've become a wealth man and make money hand over fist. Will you lend a helping hand to the victim of perestroika? My life's a complete failure. I was fired, my wife escaped to her love and my children repudiated me. You're my only hope. I remember you struggled for our scholarship when we were students.
-I even don't know what to say… I'm not a wealthy man at all. As a matter of fact, I've been broke for a long time… Maybe when I settle my problems, in due course…
The talk was unpleasant. Besides, they stood in the middle of the pavement so passers-by looked back at the down-and-out. Some of them were curious while others displayed undisguised disgust.
-I know you won't help me. All exploiters are equal. For the sake of surplus value you're ready to put workers through the wringer. Karl Marks exposed all of you!
The man looked at the note given by Rudnev contemptuously and began to talk in a more peaceful manner, 'Will you give some more so that it is enough to buy a bottle.'
When Rudnev heard reference to Marks in the lips of this down-and-out in the inappropriate place he couldn't but smile. Though he was short of funds he ransacked his purse and handed the man the money enough to but two bottles of vodka and some modest snack. The down-and-out counted the money, gave Rudnev a surprised look and said disproving himself, 'I have always thought you to be a true friend!'
Rudnev walked away and then looked back. The man was still standing in the same place holding the money as if he couldn't believe he was so lucky.

***
Rudnev has been convinced of the strange nature of everyday logic more than once. The plans you nurture for months and don't doubt their reality even a little frequently turn out to be disastrous while the craziest ideas contrary to any logic often bring luck. When the idea to set up an institute of his own came to his mind he considered it to be result of his fevered imagination. How will he be able to do this alone, without any money and connections? However, the idea didn't give him a moment's peace.
How did they establish the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute that is well-known all over the republic at present? The original cause why it was set up, just like many new cutting-edge establishments in the sphere of Belarus' public life were, should be considered to be collapse of the USSR that was followed by the period of chaos, anarchy and confusion. Society boiled up as people didn't wish and couldn't live in the old way. The communist regime that seemed to be solid and stable turned out a complete failure. In the public, economic and spiritual spheres one could observe emerging elements of something new and radical as against the obsolete system.
The new trends couldn't but affect the humanitarian focus of education. It is always the case in extreme situations that the science of society suffers in the first place. At the times like this it faces deep crisis because yesterday's dogmas become ridiculous at best or even dangerous and seditious, while the new ones haven't been worked out and approved… In early 1990s scholars and pedagogues who specialized in humanities faced the problem of what information to give their students. They could only envy physicists, mathematicians, chemists and those who specialized in natural sciences because their formulae are stable and constant under any regime.
Traditional higher education with its imperfect ways of admitting students, stiff techniques of teaching and taking exams couldn't meet the call of the times in many respects. It was necessary to provide higher level of training specialists. There also emerged a demand for new specialties. It must be admitted that in this sphere just like in many others they had to pattern their behavior on the West as far as the choice of specialties, teaching methods educational package was concerned. Society was becoming dependent on the system they used to consider to be hostile a short time before and used to spend a lot of power and means to fight against it in the Soviet epoch. Now they couldn't but borrow the best patterns, achievements and examples of Western lifestyle.
One could enter a private higher educational establishment after passing an exam, having an interview or undergoing substantial testing. In fact those people who didn't venture to enter a state higher educational establishment where favoritism still occurs come to our institute. We must admit the phenomenon exists in state establishments. If it didn't they wouldn't set up presidential commissions that are present at entrance exams in all state higher educational establishments. As a result of favoritism many gifted boys and girls can't enter a higher educational establishment and get higher education due to a number of subjective and objective reasons. What should they do, then? It is difficult to find a job even if you have good education. Inexperienced young people who don't have any profession are barred the way to find some decent work at all. The only prospect they face is to join the ranks of the homeless and the unemployed… Most students at private higher educational establishments are those applicants who passed their exams but were not selected from among other candidates at state educational establishments. Most of them are well-trained young people who sometimes excel in their knowledge those who entered the educational establishment but they failed to win the 'lottery'…
-The idea of Byelorussian Harvard is interesting in itself. However, it is hardly possible to realize it acting alone without giving it a second thought. Besides, huge capital investments will be necessary to construct a building, to have additional infrastructure and to get involved in the teaching process the most qualified academic staff. Can you imagine Harvard renting some kindergarten? Today the ambitious project of the kind is even beyond powers of the state. You should begin with more simple tasks just like heads of other higher educational establishments did.
Rudnev's close friend Leonid Sechko accepted his idea enthusiastically. This gave Rudnev some hope he would succeed. Sechko had enough hands-on experience. He was a biologist and candidate of pedagogical sciences. He had already gone through fire and water. After he graduated from university he worked as a headmaster of a secondary school, a pro-rector of Gomel State University and a chairman of Gomel's city Soviet of people's deputies. In 1990s he was a deputy of the Supreme Soviet and of the House of Representatives. He was one of the most prominent politicians in the country who did a lot to form its party structures.
'Fortune favors the bold,' Sechko encouraged Rudnev.
-Do you really believe this isn't a bad case?
-I do. However, the main problem is not money. We'll scrape it up somehow. Necessity is the mother of invention. It will be much more difficult to get over red tape.
-Do you think bureaucrats will oppose our intention to establish the institute? Do they fail to understand development of higher education system is in the interest of the state?
-Alexander Nikolayevich, you've devoted yourself to academic work for too long so you lag behind life now. Of course they do. However, officials think charity begins at home. You will receive evidence of this more than once.
Sechko's warning turned out to be prophetic. Rudnev couldn't even imagine he would be led up the garden path in such an open and cynical way. After the very first days of haunting doorways of officials Rudnev got convinced these people exist not to give assistance to realize the projects like this but to hinder in every possible way. He spent hours in the offices of third-rate officials who were unimportant, in fact, but whose signature was necessary to move further. Sometimes he had to make sail without obtaining the cherished signature.
The idea of people's academy was dismissed out of hand in the ministry.
'Do you want to set your miserable private institute above the state university?' an official exclaimed after reading the first lines of the charter.
'Why do you call it miserable? Stop pinning labels,' Rudnev objected. However, it was no use arguing, so he offered to substitute the words 'Byelorussian People's Academy' by 'Humanitarian and Economic Institute'.
'That's another thing,' the ministry official quieted down. 'Introduce the changes and come next week.'
-Will you read the draft project till the end, please, just in case there are some more remarks?
-I can't. Do you see the queue in the corridor? If I read from cover to cover papers that are illiterate fro legal point of view I will have to work twenty four hours a day.
The same things happened in other offices, too. When they finally sorted out all matters with the charter they said a letter of intent granting legal address and provisions of a lease were necessary. They hardly managed to find the necessary building.
After examining the papers the official ordered to submit a plan of lecture rooms to him. When the plan was submitted it turned out it was necessary to specify metric area. When this was done numeration of room was required. After this they asked to divide them into lecture halls and rooms for seminars. When he offered to introduce the insignificant additions in ink he heard an indignant exclamation, 'This is a document! Shall I submit it to the minister for approval as it is?'
Weeks and months passed but the license was as distant as the moon. Rudnev realized they were leading him up the garden path trying to frustrate admission of students and thus remove the matter from the agenda. There were periods when he was about to give up. However, Sechko always supported him. As they say two heads are better than one so they always managed to find a way out of any situation that seemed to be a dead-end. Afterwards they were nicknamed at the institute as an 'inseparable duo'. Leonid Sechko let Alexander have the role of a leader without reserve and did his best to carry on his shoulders the work at the institute. He should be given the credit for the fact that research work at the IHEI was on a level with that at state higher educational establishments because he was pro-rector for research work.

***
One morning Alexander woke up with a bad pain in his heart. He turned to one of the most outstanding cardiologists for help. He was watching the work of a luminary in medicine and waiting for his verdict with excitement. The nurse who assisted the professor held out the cardiogram but the doctor motioned he didn't need one. He didn't use any stethoscope. He brought his ear close to Rudnev's chest and listened to his heart sounds carefully tapping his finger on Alexander's chest. His face grew more and more worried. When he finished the examination he took the cardiogram, cast a glance at it and waved his head reproachfully.
-How did you come to pre-infarction angina? Do you have any quarrels with your wife?
-No, I don't. There's peace and quiet in our family life.
-Do you drink?
-I don't.
-Are you a smoker?
-I'm not.
-Do you abuse relations with women?
Rudnev smiled.
-I don't avoid women, professor, but I try to communicate with them within reasonable limits.
-Then you must engage yourself in self-disparagement. It has become fashionable to criticize ourselves for any failure. People finish themselves off instead of helping their body to cope with the increasing emotional load. They've given up manual labor completely. They don't even have time to do morning exercises…
-Do you have to do anything with politics?
-No, I don't.
-Thanks God. When I watch endless wars of words in the parliament I can't stop thinking people have degenerated so much. Our forefathers could speak in signs only. They understood each other perfectly well and could always come to an agreement. If they fought, the only reason was women. Still, women are top creations of nature who are worth fighting for. I wonder what politicians fight for? Well, old chap, to cut a long story short you should sort out your problems and try to find some time for morning exercises. However, jogging that is so fashionable at present is strictly forbidden. Only fools who know nothing about laws of body functioning may rush like mad thinking they're running away from heart attack…
Rudnev's papers were finally given the go-ahead. He received the cherished license on September 23 1994. However, the academic year had already started. The officials were sure it was ruined for Rudnev. One can imagine their surprise when they found out that the Humanitarian and Economic Institute existed de-facto and had over 300 students who studied at the Economic Department and the Faculty of Law.
'How did you manage this?' his acquaintances wondered.
'Craftiness and no cheating,' Rudnev responded paraphrasing the famous saying.
The thing was that Rudnev ventured a risky and illegal step that could bring him a lot of trouble.
In August when admission to state higher educational establishments was over and many applicants found out they hadn't been selected from among other candidates Rudnev published an interview that had a pretentious title 'Belarus is going to have Harvard of its own' in a popular national periodical. Gullible people came in crowds to the address mentioned in the article. To tell the truth, some meticulous parents asked to be shown the license. Alexander convinced them the license was still being registered and that they were going to be given it very soon. Most people believed him, although a high-ranking mother of some applicant promised to make inquiries at the ministry and to sue him if the information was not confirmed. Luckily, things turned out well. Later on the license could be seen in the hall of the Regional Institute of Advanced Studies for Teachers in Glebki Street where Rudnev managed to rent several rooms. Now he could breathe freely. The institute functioned and first sums had been transferred to its account.
Frankly speaking, Alexander couldn't believe this himself. He often asked himself a question, 'Would I be able to do this labor of Sisyphus alone, without anybody's help?' He invariably answered, 'No, I wouldn't. I would never have managed to establish the institute without the grace of God.' Rudnev was frequently convinced it was God's invisible hand that pulled him out of the quagmire of problems that were impossible to solve. It may well be so, however, that salvation was possible due to the concentration of physical and spiritual powers. This is the feature Alexander has always been notable for. Still, this could have been hardly possible if he didn't believe in God.
However, after the institute was registered the number of problems seemed to increase. They emerged almost every day. They settled provisions of a lease with the Regional Institute of Advanced Studies for Teachers in compliance with all fine legal points. Moreover, the institute was headed by an acquaintance of Rudnev. However, it happened quite frequently the door of the institute turned out to be closed on Saturdays. It took a lot of time to find out what was what while the students had to loiter around the yard. Teachers grumbled because many of whom worked on a part-time basis and hardly managed to find time to come. Parents made complaints to the ministry. It didn't take long to face the trouble.
Two months after the academic year began were not over when a commission visited the institute. Ministry officials checked educational package and examined every carefully the academic staff. It must be admitted this was Achilles' heel of the institute. There were only two men on the staff. They were Rudnev himself and one retired lecturer. The majority of the staff was part-time lecturers who were not interested in the image of the institute. They gave their lectures and vanished into thin air immediately. One couldn't even think at first about getting them involved in more active work. Due to the shortage of the staff Rudnev had to teach the disciplines that were not his subject area. The commission pointed to this and noted, 'You promised to establish a Harvard but you don't even make the grade as a mean higher educational establishment!'
-Aren't you ashamed? A month and a half has passed since the institute started working. Even a woman bears a child almost five times as much. I promise I'll keep my word.
Rudnev understood the early inspection was the first wake-up call and that some more were to follow. He realized the conclusions would be tougher. His friends sympathized with him, 'Why did you get into this trouble? They won't give you a moment's rest!'
-It's all right! We'll wait and see. It isn't over until it's over.
The beginning of the second term was more or less calm. Rudnev was thinking about opening some more departments in the new academic year and was preparing the necessary papers. Suddenly an acquaintance of his played a mea trick on him. The journal 'Vysheyshaya Schkola' where he worked as deputy editor-in-chief published an article where they gave rating of twelve Byelorussian higher educational establishments where IHEI ranked last. Rudnev got indignant. He happened to have visited other private institutes so he knew the things there were none the better and even worse in some respects. This was especially true of academic books. Those used in the training process in Soviet times were badly behind the times. There weren't any new course books, either. Students had to buy books in marketing, management and international law in Russia. This gave rise to many unfavorable complaints. The Humanitarian and Economic Institute was right as nails in this respect. Rudnev established a publishing department, obtained a license and organized publishing learner's guides and course books. Prominent scientists who knew it took too long for course books to be published by state publishing houses drew contracts with the publishing department. The deputy editor-in-chief saw this with his own eyes and was surprised by its efficiency. However, he turned everything upside down in his article.
-Leonid, I have nothing against the fact that the European Humanitarian Institute that receives grants from abroad ranks high in the list. I agree with the evaluation of the Institute of Contemporary Knowledge. I won't reveal any secret when I say that both the Byelorussian State University and the Ministry for Education rendered Alexander Shirokov their assistance. At the same time I am convinced the IHEI is far from being the worst private higher educational establishment.
'Listen, chap, I have nothing to do with this,' his friend said. 'This is objective statistics that takes different factors into account. Besides… Why did you become so nervous? This rating is merely an unimportant attempt to follow fashion… '
-Don't try to muddle my brain. I know what this attempt to follow fashion means. First you make up a rating, and then you raise the question about some conclusions.
He must have had second sight when he said this. Two weeks after the issue of the journal that contained that contained the critical article was published another commission visited the institute.
'It must be admitted things are quite bad with you!' the chairman of the commission said before he started to examine papers.
It became evident one couldn't expect any objective analysis of the academic process. The inspection must have been initiated from above with its verdict returned beforehand.
When he summed results of the inspection the chairman of the commission confirmed his prior conclusion, 'I am sorry to say, Alexander Nikolayevich, but we have to submit a report to the ministry asking to close the institute because it doesn't correspond to the basic criteria a higher educational establishment should meet. Naturally, the matter will be decided by the ministry board. You'll be invited to its meeting and given the opportunity to raise your objections. However, I'm afraid the issue is prejudged.'
-Don't give up on me beforehand!
Nobody knows whether it was by mere coincidence or due to the fact they realized there weren't any solid grounds to close the Humanitarian and Economic Institute but the commission's report was put off from one meeting to another. It was on the agenda in May last time. After this it was shelved.
After Rudnev beat off these bureaucratic attempts he had to solve another problem that was none the less serious. To ensure further cooperation with the lecturers who worked at the institute he had to pay them not only their salary but also their holiday pay. The amount turned out to be substantial. To make a loan was out of the question because they couldn't suggest any sizeable deposit. The idea of how to settle the problem came to his mind quite unexpectedly.
After the examination session was over Rudnev organized a meeting with students. They gathered in the conference hall of the Regional Institute of Advanced Studies for Teachers. The meeting was informal and friendly. There were several samovars on the tables, as well as bowls full of bread rings and biscuits. Everyone could help himself to some coffee or tea.
Rudnev was excited. He congratulated the students on finishing their first year, wished them to have a good rest and made an unusual inquiry.
-The institute has made its first step. It didn't slip although I must admit it was difficult to do. Officials put a lot of obstacles in our way. They're doing their best to prevent the Humanitarian and Economic Institute from turning into a Byelorussian Harvard one day. They want stagnation of the state educational system to become evident. They use economic leverage to achieve their goal. Banks accountable to the government refused to issue a loan to the institute under some far-fetched pretexts although financing education sphere is one of priorities all over the civilized world. I have no one else to turn for help to but you. I ask those who will find it possible to pay for their studies in the third term right now. This will enable us to tackle some pressing material problems and to supply the institute library with new books.
Rudnev was surprised to see that students and their parents responded to his request willingly. This persuaded him once again he had made a correct choice…
Alexander managed to think of a zest for his institute. IHEI became a true Mecca for promising sportsmen. Rudnev released them from the need to pay for their education. Moreover, he paid them scholarships. IHEI was the only private higher educational establishment that practiced this at the time. Much later some of the private educational establishment followed his example and started to introduce differentiated payment system that implied reductions for good studies and active participation in public life. In due course the students of the Humanitarian and Economic Institute began to prevail at national championships and won major international competitions. Nineteen students of the IHEI became world champions; twenty seven students won European championships. Two of the students, namely, Alexei Medvedev and Vladimir Doubrovshchik won silver medals at the Olympics in Atlanta. The national team of Belarus that consisted entirely of IHEI students took the ninth place at the World Student Games leaving behind the Ukrainian team.
Rudnev's rivals regarded his assistance to talented sportsmen and children from low-income families to be a stab in their backs because students from other private higher educational establishments started to transfer to the Humanitarian and Economic Institute in large numbers.
'Alexander Nikolayevic, what you are doing is contrary to any rules,' rectors protested.
-Let each of you throw a stone at me if he hears at least one unflattering word about your institutes. As far as charity is concerned… You should turn to the Bible more frequently.
The news of Rudnev's responsiveness reached his native place. In summer of 1995 Alexander came to Rudna for a short rest. He put up a shelter of branches in the forest not far from his home and spent time there taking pleasure in the nature. His mother was upset.
-Sonny, why don't you come to spend the night at home? Just think what people are going to say! They'll say the mother doesn't even have a bed for her son.
-Mum, I'd like to get back to my childhood for a short time at least in my thoughts, to sleep on the grass, to listen to the chirr of insects and to dream fishing at dawn!
'Let it be so!' his mother agreed. Every morning she milked the cow and hurried to her son either with an earthenware pot of fresh milk or hot 'draniki' (pancakes made of potato) carefully wrapped up in an embroidered towel to prevent them from getting cool.
Soon afterwards after they found out where his shelter was his distant relatives and complete strangers started to drop in. Most frequently these were women who brought small bundles with food. Some brought meat or domestic sausages, others a jar of fresh honey. Alexander rejected these gifts in every possible way. He begged the women and argued with them but nothing helped. Women asked him to admit their son or daughter to the institute and promised to provide him with foodstuffs in return. They told about their lives full of hardships and cried…
Rudnev didn't have the front to reject their requests. The chief accountant was often indignant, 'Alexander Nikolayevich, your charity is likely to bankrupt the institute very soon. We waste a lot of money!'
However, he kept signing orders about free education or education at a reduced rate. He returned all parcels with foodstuffs that grateful parents sent to him from the bottom of their hearts.
When fellow villagers met Rudnev's mother they bowed low to her and thanked her for bringing up the son.
Alexandra Rudneva worked hard all her life. Before the war she drove a heavy timber lorry. In postwar time she worked from morning till night at a cattle farm. She was always awarded letters of commendation and tangible rewards for her work but she considered them to be less important than gratitude of hard-working women like she was…

***
After he safely avoided the barriers bureaucrats had put in the way of the Humanitarian and Economic Institute Alexander Rudnev didn't retire on his laurels because he understood the attempts to hinder their work were not going to stop. He remembered a funny incident from the life of Mikhail Lomonosov. The prominent scientist and founder of the Russian Academy of Sciences was constantly humiliated by semiliterate Germans who enjoyed favor of Katherine II. In time of some reception a court official pointed at the hole in Lomonosov's man's sleeveless jacket and giggled, 'Scholarship peeps out!'
'Now, this is foolishness that shows itself,' Lomonisov countered immediately.
When he was alone he couldn't hold back his anger and exclaimed, 'We'll prove our competence by dissertations!'
Rudnev also had no other way out but to prove his competence to ministry officials by 'dissertations', i.e. by organizing full-fledged training, creating a solid resource base and by research work. The worst problem was academic staff. According to the standards at least forty per cent of staff teachers should have academic degrees. Alexander met hundreds of people and always heard the same response, 'You see teachers are paid higher salary at your institute but can you guarantee they won't close it tomorrow? I'm afraid to remain unemployed. You know it's difficult to find a new job nowadays.'
Unfortunately, this was true. Since the very first days private higher educational establishments were set up the state was prejudiced against them. When they realized in due course that private higher educational system turned out to respond to changes in the market in a more flexible way and was enjoying more popularity, their suspicion turned into undisguised hostility. They didn't run the risk to do away with private institutes for fear of negative public opinion. However, the ministry deliberately offered unequal conditions to educational establishments and favored flight of students from private educational establishments to those departments of state establishments that provided services for a fee.
When Rudnev realized he wouldn't be able to attract to the institute teachers from state higher educational establishments, not even for all the tea in China, he remembered there were many retired teachers many of whom found themselves to be out of the picture although they were willing to go on working. The miserable pension they were paid couldn't secure them any decent subsistence level. Their moral wound was even more serious because they excelled many young teachers by far in their knowledge, experience and skill. Very soon Alexander received evidence his expectations turned out to be true. The fact he invited to give lectures such outstanding personalities as the former secretary of the Supreme Soviet of Byelorussia Yelizaveta Chagina helped both to do away with the teaching staff shortage and to win the Humanitarian and Economic Institute more prestige. In order to fill in the vacancies they invited professors and associate professors from state higher educational establishments to work part-time.
It turned out to be none the less complicated to obtain the necessary lecture room stock. The thing that prevented them from doing this was ordinary pettifogging. This is a characteristic feature of our mentality. There is hardly any other country in the world where people worship so much the papers given out by bosses of all ranks. In time of October Revolution they evicted people or even executed them with no investigation or trial guided by the warrants with signatures of leaders scribbled on them. In the XX century the whole of the civilized world turned to paperless office. Natural and legal persons carry out all major financial and trade transactions, including filing an income tax return, by means of electronic system. They even introduced the term 'electronic government'. As far as our country is concerned electronic signature is still invalid here. Officials treat it with distrust so people have to haunt their doors to obtain the necessary signature.
Aversion of the state to private business and to private higher educational establishments in particular is difficult to explain. During the fourteen years it existed the Humanitarian and Economic Institute has transferred to the budget taxes and lease payments that amount to over 11 billion dollars. The institute reminds of the goose that laid the golden egg. Moreover, the goose didn't require any state expenses. Why do the authorities keep trying to kill it with such maniacal persistence, then?
When accreditation of the Faculty of Law was held the commission noticed shortage of staff teachers who gave lectures in core disciplines. Rudnev was aware of the 'Achilles' heel' of the institute. However, all the attempts to solve the problem failed. The prospect of the license to be suspended seemed to be inevitable. The commission members didn't conceal this when they started to make their final report. The report was based on the assumption that drawing in specialists to give lectures on a part-time basis doesn't enable the Faculty of Law to provide their students with deep knowledge of the subjects. Alexander read the report and expressed his surprise.
-What grounds did you make the conclusion on?
It was now the turn of the commission members to be surprised.
-On the grounds of the staff lest you submitted.
-May I have a look at it?
-Yes, please.
Rudnev had seen the staff list many times before because he gave instructions what papers to submit to the commission. However, he feigned violent indignation. He called the personnel department manager and reprimanded her severely in public.
-Why do you keep documentation so carelessly? Why did you give the commission the outdated staff list?
The personnel department manager joined in the game.
-That's entirely my fault! I'm sorry I've overlooked it, Alexander Nikolayevich!
A moment later she brought in an ex post order that introduced internal second employment. Every staff teacher was entitled to work part-time, besides his main workload.
-Unfortunately, we haven't managed to transfer all teachers to this advanced system that enable to increase significantly the teachers' payment rate, just like the president of the country requires, but we're planning to finish the work in the next few days.
The commission's chairman was an experienced official so he realized everything. However, nothing could be said against that because formally everything was perfect at the Faculty of Law as far as staff issue was concerned. The man said in a fit of temper, 'Take care, Rudnev, or you'll run into trouble one day!'
They say poverty is the mother of invention. Rudnev realized it would be useless to be at law with officialdom so he preferred to beat them in intellectual sphere.
Far from every private higher educational establishment faced the problems similar to those Rudnev had to solve. There were also 'lucky ones' but the luck was gained through bribes. Some experienced people advised Alexander more than once, 'Why don't you go to this or that man and give them some bribe. You won't have any problems for at least a year!'
'I wonder what God would say to this,' Rudnev responded.
-You still haven't got rid of your romantic ideas about life. Have a look at what is going on around you. You can't take a step without giving somebody a bribe. Why doesn't God punish the villains?
-God has a lot of other problems to solve. When time comes everyone will be rewarded to his deserts…
Rudnev has something to be proud of. Ten thousand young people who graduated from the IHEI work for the good of their country. Some of the graduates came to work abroad.

 

THE SONG OF THE SOUL

There's hardly any person who didn't overgrow poetry in his childhood and who didn't try to write verses. When love rages inside feelings gush over. There emerges a burning wish to pour them out onto paper. People write verses when they have a happy love or an unhappy one, when they feel joy or when they suffer. A small number of people keep the need to express their ideas in rhymes. This is the way poets are born. With the majority of people who aren't marked with a God-given talent the passion for poetry passes when they satisfy their intimacy needs after getting married. Amorous volcanoes don't erupt frequently at mature age. Passions are accompanied by poetry while cool judgment gives birth to prose only…
At the age of twelve Alexander Rudnev took a great interest in Sergey Yesenin's lyric poetry. He came across a book of the poet's verses accidentally. Every summer he went fishing with his friends. Their favorite place was where the Pripyat and its small tributary Skripitsa flooded. Fish swam with melt water into the area rich in grass and was unwilling to swim back when the rivers returned to their usual banks as the feed there was abundant and diverse. Fishermen always came back home with rich haul and thus pleased their mothers. As far as Alexander was concerned it wasn't his parents' praise that pleased him so much but enjoying the nature. The neighborhood was especially beautiful at dawn or at sunset when everything around acquired some mysterious color. The boy admired the fantastic pictures created by some invisible artist and forgot about his fishing line. This provoked his friends' ridicule.
'Take care not to fall into the water or will fish you out instead of a crucian,' they often kidded.
One evening his friend Pavel, the son of the soldier killed near Warsaw, took along with him a tattered collection of verses by Sergey Yesenin. Pavel brought the book from Bratsk where he worked at the construction of a hydroelectric power plant after signing a contract. He was ten years Alexander's senior. However, the age difference didn't prevent their close friendship. They put the pot of fish soup on the fire and minded their own business. Alexander opened the book. He was charmed by the very first lines. He knew from Sergey Yesenin's biography the poet had never been to Belarus and that most of his poetry that had rural country as its motif was devoted to his native Ryazan land. However, the likeness to the Polesye land was so great he seemed to be reading description of the local places. Alexander got the book out of his friend and has always had it with him since then. He knew all verses by heart. Still, he read them turning over pages of the book because the magic of the printed word was very strong. He tried to write verses under Yesenin's influence but they weren't as stirring as Yesenin's for some reason so he gave this pursuit up. Unlike literary heroes who turned slaves of their feelings and were ready to perform wild acts up to committing suicide through unanswered love Rudnev tamed his passions by hard work and exercise rather than by poetry. The characters like young romantic Child Harold do not take root in the village where people get up with the lark and go to bed after midnight.
When he was over forty Alexander took a great interest in writing social and political essays. His essays '… Tomorrow was not to come,' 'We are people… XX century,' 'Reflections about my Motherland,' 'My land is my destiny' enjoy great popularity. In fact Rudnev revived the analytical genre that ranked high in the Russian literature of the XVIII-XIX centuries owing to the creative work of Radishchev, Chernyshevsky, Dobrolyubov, Belinsky and Pisarev. His sharp word gets over borders and finds a response far beyond Belarus. The weekly 'Moskovsky Literator', the edition that is notable for its fastidiousness as far as appraisal of creative work of its foreign colleagues is concerned made a review of one of Rudnev's books. It would be a good idea to publish the review of the critic Alexander Vlasenko in full.

Modern literature sees unprecedented flourishing of publicist genres up to anecdotes and tales. There's no hope for any other 'War and Peace' to appear. Might the epic feature be compensated for by some profound ideas? Can we expect to see new Belinskys, Chernyshevskys and Plekhanovs? Alas, the present-day political atmosphere in Russia, just like at the time of Brezhnev's 'Virgin Soil', is created by ordinary notes in the form of autobiographies of the Duma and presidential circles…
That is why I had apprehension of some discovery when I opened a new book by a Byelorussian academician, a doctor of political sciences Alexander Rudnev '…Tomorrow was not to come.' I knew Rudnev as an author of research works, as well as two collections of poetry. Perhaps…
I wasn't disappointed, indeed. It's been a long time since I came across such a passionate and clever work where sermon and confession merge. In most cases the author managed to combine naturally sharp political talk and lyrical animation of everyday social phenomena.
A. Rudnev who is a historian sometimes displays academic strictness when he reminds us about suffering and heroic deeds of the Byelorussian land of partisans. Over and over again he gives the number of losses Belarus suffered during the Great Patriotic War. The war claimed lives of 2.5 million Belarusian people. However, the author doesn't limit himself to reminding us that 'every fourth inhabitant of Belarus was killed.' Just like a true artist he makes us cry by his lifelike lyrical comparison '…No wonder there're three birch trees growing in Khatyn with eternal flame in the place of the fourth one.'
Like a true port he exclaims when ending the chapter 'Life of every human being is an invaluable gift and great treasure… We won in spite of all hardships!'
Moreover, the author intersperses his reflections with verses of his own that are worth the immortal memory.
Although the theme of victory adds enthusiasm to the whole of the book it doesn't smooth over its critical orientation as far as appraisal of our depressing modern times is concerned. What is at issue is not only the cowardly behavior in time the Chernobyl catastrophe of the then first secretary of the Communist Party of Belarus Nikolay Slyunkov and Mikhail Gorbachev who is characterized as a' man who wallowed in idle talk and phrase-mongering' but also present-day bolshevist leaders like Zyuganov who advocate communist ideals zealously. Indeed… 'We've had enough of advice… We're tired of blood, red banners and lies…'
A. Rudnev sounds most competent and convincing when he expresses critical opinions about the present-day economic state. He displays himself as a witty interlocutor whose observations are full of humor. One cannot but feel amazed when the author draws a picture with some bitter implications to characterize the sorrowful state of affairs of agriculture in Belarus and Russia.
'People gathered round a tractor that wouldn't start and consult each other how to move it. An experienced machine operator approaches them and these poor experts ask him if anything could be done under the circumstances. The knowledgeable man advised them to buy a new tractor…'
Further the anecdote acquired another meaning because the author doesn't merely speak about the tractor. He touches a wide range of problems. 'It is easy to give a piece of advice but where should one get the money to buy a new tractor, some spare parts for it and fuel to fill it u, not to mention more important tasks and drastic changes… What we face ahead of us is abyss.'
The author puts the blame for the destitution of the nation on communists with his criticism being extremely drastic at this point, 'We'll always be side by side with the Russian people and the Russia of Pushkin, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Yesenin but we're not going to support the Russia of the communist leaders.'
A. Rudnev gives a very convincing description of the severe ordeal and heroism of the Byelorussian and Russian people displayed during the Great Patriotic War and the need to right the wrong as far as its participants are concerned. He gives a striking example of bureaucratic heartlessness towards national heroes. The former colonel of the Red Army Ivan Andreyevich Kolosovwas conferred the title of the Hero of Russia fifty years after he was nominated for the high award by marshal Rokossovsky.
It is exactly in this book that we're acquainted with the figure of our losses during the war. Our countries lost about 100 million people! The author exclaims, 'These are ten states with the population Belarus has at present!'
A. Rudnev sounds very convincingly when he covers and criticizes modern university education. As far as this problem is concerned he is guided by his own experience. He resolutely opposes to leveling of knowledge and disproves the popular thesis that any cook can be in charge of the state. He also advocates humanization of science. Facts prove the truth of his opinion that knowledge deprived of love and morality 'pose a threat not only to a human being but to all living things on the Earth.'
The essay of A.N. Rudnev enriches significantly the modern aspect of our literature.' (2001, February, #4)

After the October revolution the total rule of Marxist and Leninist ideology was established so it gradually fizzled out. Party propaganda turned into a national nurse that couldn't tolerate any objections and stuffed Soviet people with chewed over facts. It was useless and even dangerous to ponder. Search after the truth that nourishes our intellect lost any meaning. Just like negligent pupils who immediately peep into the answer key when they get down to solving some problem we looked for it in the Central Committee guidelines and government decrees. Dissent moved to kitchens and spilled over from there into streets and squares only in extreme cases where it was mercilessly suppressed. The followers of Chatsky with his credo 'It's high time to dare have our own opinion!' started to be regarded mentally ill people by efforts of the official propaganda and were sent to mental hospitals.
Rudnev's analytical writing is modern apocryphal writing in its nature. In his writing he doesn't merely reconsider that past just like many present-day researches do. He also expresses a critical opinion of the present and makes attempts to anticipate things. Many of the ideas he uttered are on the brink of breaking ideological rules. His friends have warned him more than once, 'Take care, Sasha. You're going to bring disaster upon yourself. If you can't hold back your feelings you shouldn't at least make your works public.'
However, he thinks to follow their advice means letting his talent go to waste. It's not in him. He has dreamt for a long time to write a course book in the history of Belarus. We should see history depicted there to be full of life and contradictory. It shouldn't be featureless and ideologically decorated just as the one we see in the books of most modern authors whose works were approved by the Ministry for education. He wants every politician and statesman who came into the spotlight of history at least one to be rewarded according to their deserts. It is rather difficult to repeat the civil feat of such Russian historians as Karamzin, Klyuchevskoi, Solovyev and Tarle in modern Belarus where ideology department watches very carefully all publishing activity and suppresses the slightest dissent. Many primary sources are still secret. However, there are archives in Lithuania, Russia and other countries…
Craving for writing poetry returned to him quite unexpectedly. Once, Alexander was awoken by the sounds of some unfamiliar charming tune. He couldn't understand where the tune was flowing from. He went out to the balcony. It was dark outside and the windows of his neighbors' flats were closed. Everyone was asleep. The yard where young people usually get together in the evening was empty, too. However, the tune went on sounding quite distinctly. He thought he saw a dream and pinched his cheek. He felt pain and got surprised even more. At last, he thought it was an ordinary auditory hallucination. Several days later, however, the amazing experience repeated. Then Rudnev realized the source of the unusual music was inside him. He started to write some verses that fitted the tune.
He wrote his first verse in about half an hour. The words flew to paper by themselves.
We should say it wasn't accidental that Rudnev preferred frivolous and emotional poetry rather than dry and strict in its opinions social and political writing. He found his own Muse who produced a revolution of feelings inside him. These feelings spilled over and resulted in melodious lyrical verses.
After he wrote down hastily his first verse Alexander felt a burning need in poetry. He remembered about Yesenin's verses. There was a complete set of poet's works in his home library. However, he rummaged through all his books before he discovered in a lower drawer of a book case in a disorderly pile of books meant either for dump or for commission shop the tattered collection of poems with a picture of a birch tree on its cover that inspired him so much in his childhood. He reread it from cover to cover although he had a royal memory and remembered all verses by heart…
There is a popular opinion that verses grow out of garbage expressed by some venerable modern poet. Rudnev's verses appear out of spindrift, out of green flood plains and shady groves, out of the water of the Naut. They grow in his parents' yard and arise through asphalt in the city in some inconceivable way. They ring like a high string. He writes his verses at different times of the day. The magical tune that always accompanies Alexander might wake him up in the middle of the night or make him start before midnight. It may require him to take up a pen during a lecture or some formal meeting. He can never resist it so he gets out under some plausible pretext for ten or five minutes to write down a new stanza.
The notebook with neatly copied verses was always kept in the drawer of Alexander's table. He never locked it so it might well be so that his relatives familiarized themselves with his lyric poetry in secret. Otherwise it is difficult to explain how Vladimir Boudnik found out about his work. Alexander wasn't acquainted with Boudnik in person. He only knew there was a composer Boudnik in Belarus whose songs are performed at different concerts and broadcast by radio and television. That is why Rudnev couldn't conceal his surprise when Vladimir Boudnik phoned him one day and confessed in a bit confused voice he had read some of his verses and now asked his permission to try to set them to music.
-I am sorry to say but it seems to me you're mistaken. I have to admit I write verses sometimes but it's merely a hobby. You must have confused me with somebody else because I've never had any of my verses published.
Vladimir Boudnik responded him by reciting one of his poems.
-You won't be able to renounce the verses even for the purpose of secrecy, Alexander Nikolayevich, because you've put your soul into them. People sometimes sacrifice their bodies for the sake of either their Motherland or their relatives. However, they never give up their souls voluntarily, even for the sake of some good cause because when a person betrays his soul it turns into its opposite and paves the way to hell. The story from the Bible you are sure to be familiar with has been committed to paper in many literary works and works of art.
I ask your permission to let me try. I cannot guarantee I'll cope with the task. Your verses are written in an unusual manner. Fastidious critics might even find some deviation from canonical norms and breach of rhyme in them. In my opinion, however, this only increases merits of your poetry. Your manner is original and almost impossible to copy. As a composer I'm compelled to look for similarly original music style.
-How did you get by my decent verses?
-Alexander Nikolayevich, let it remain the secret that belongs to me and the person who I feel extremely grateful to for the opportunity to enjoy your poetry.
Rudnev didn't manage to make Boudnik confess and gave his consent to work with the verses. Several days passed. Boudnik failed to phone so Rudnev decided nothing came out of the poem. He wasn't upset but he took some offence at the composer who didn't say anything to him. One evening his daughter called him, 'Dad, have a look, one of the students of your institute is singing!'
He reluctantly tore himself away from the manuscript and came to the living room. One of his former students was performing the song 'Nights in August.' The tune was tender and sincere; folk instruments were intertwined into modern beat in a natural way. He had quite a good ear for music so he listened to the song with delight without thinking over the sense. Only when he heard the refrain he realized 'This is my poem!'
The first public performance of Alexander Rudnev's song could be considered birth of one of the most original and popular lyricists in Belarus.

***
Is it the tune or the words that are more important in a song? The variety art of the Soviet epoch considered the content of the song to be more important. They carefully watched every song to be ideologically proofread. If any doubts arose the author was required to change some word or to rewrite the verse. There are many examples of the kind.
In 1950s the song performed by the actor Boris Chirkov in the film 'The youth of Maksim' enjoyed great popularity. Some vigilant censor noticed a kind of ideological lameness in the simple refrain saying, 'A blue scarf is spinning and turning around, a blue scarf is spinning over the ground, it is spinning, turning around and is about to fall onto the ground.' The censor noted that Soviet girls wore red kerchiefs rather than blue scarves. However, as far as the film depicted pre-revolutionary period they decided to forgive the author. Nevertheless, the word 'scarf' alien to the Soviet people was substituted by the word 'ball'. What they had as a result was complete nonsense though from the point of view of ideology there was nothing left hanging!
Similar incidents happened to many other famous verses when changes to the text were introduced. They turned the word 'shoulder strap' into 'palm' in the line of the poem that became a popular waltz, 'The arm of a stranger is lying on my shoulder strap' because there were no shoulder straps in the Soviet Army at the time. Sometimes a performer could ask to amend a song. Mark Bernes, the idol of the youth in 1960s was rehearsing the song set to the words of the famous Soviet poet Rasoul Gamzatov and offered to use the word 'soldiers' instead of the word 'horsemen' in the line 'It seems to me at times that horsemen who never returned from battlefields must have turned into a flock of cranes.' The poet agreed and even admitted that both content and the rhyme gained.
It has become a sort of a tradition recently to give preference to the composer while poets seem to be kept in the background. At their musical evenings famous composers don't always invite a poet to the stage to share the triumph by right. At best they might mention him in passing in order not to hurt. Poets behave in a different way. Each of these people who were lucky enough to write a poem that made a song hit with the public is sure to mention the composer. They don't merely do justice to him. They even note priority of music over the text although this is not quite true.
This has happened partly due to the fact that musicians have been given complete control over modern pop music. Most frequently these musicians work to cater for undemanding audience. Neither composers no their listeners need any words. No wonder these are composers who write most texts to be set to their music not thinking much over the sense and neglecting elementary language norms. These ignorant songs are made fun of by the public. They are ridiculed mercilessly by famous humorists on TV. However, the shallow songs of the kind propagate in great numbers. Sometimes the traditional Russian contest 'Golden Microphone' that is held annually by the popular 'Russian Radio' turns out to consist entirely of superficial or even commonplace songs. Behavior of the showmen at the contest matches the content of the songs.
There are over a hundred songs to the words from Alexander Rudnev. All of them were broadcast by radio or television. Each of the songs, whether they are devoted to love to a woman or to Motherland have some underlying message in them and lack any insincerity.
When he had his first recital at the Byelorussian Theatre of Musical Comedy Rudnev felt as if a condemned man who was going to be executed or a student who was going to face some terrible state commission that was going to influence his future. He even made an attempt to talk organizers of the concert out saying his poems hadn't taken any shape. However, the organizers stood their ground.
Rudnev stood offstage and could hardly hold back his excitement. First he feared the hall would be empty. He still couldn't believe the tickets had been sold out long before. When he made sure the house was full he started to look anxiously into the faces of the audience trying to understand whether they would take his songs. By the time the first performer came to stage one might as well call an ambulance because valerian tincture wasn't of help any more.
Deafening applause made him come to himself. Alexander realized that just like poisonous city smog couldn't erase from people's memory the intoxicating fragrance of grasses wet with dew, in the same way the vulgarity that had conquered variety art couldn't ruin people's taste for good lyrical songs. What made him especially happy was the fact there were many students of his institute in the hall who came there of their own free will because he warned very strictly deans of all departments against any forced distribution of tickets. He felt a wish to take up a pen and start writing at once… The words asked to be put to paper.
When he heard an imperious request of the audience 'Let the author come to stage!' he didn't even realize at first they mean him. He pushed Vladimir Boudnik out to the front of the stage. However, the audience insisted they wanted to see the author so he went on stage. He seemed to se a bit awkward with embarrassment. He bowed to the audience holding his hand at the chest where his heart was about to jump out. He was the happiest person on Earth at the moment…
The debut of the lyricist Alexander Rudnev is the matter of the past. Now his name is familiar to all fans of variety art. He has had several recitals and concerts that were held in Minsk and other major cities of the republic. His songs that are full of lyricism are well known and loved both in Belarus and abroad. He was admitted to the Writers' Union of Russia. The former presidents of Russia and Poland Vladimir Putin and Alexander Kvasnevsky, as well as the current president of Slovakia Ivan Gashnerevich sent the poet letters of commendation for the cycle devoted to victory in the World War II. One can hear songs to words from Rudnev even at the faraway Cyprus where many of fellow countrymen are settled. There are several letters on Alexander's desktop that invite him to come to the island, have a rest and meet admirers of his talent. Unfortunately, he has no time for this!
Just as usual, Rudnev stays at the institute from morning till night. Despite the fact the institute enjoys international status it still faces the same problems like rental growing before the eyes, endless inspections, a wave of reports and undisguised discrimination. In 2008 the Ministry for Education communicated another piece of bad news to thousands of applicants who wished to enter the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute when it refused to increase the quota. Once again he had to haunt doorways of offices and prove this was a gross violation of the Constitution and that only applicants and their parents who paid for studies had the right to decide what education was more preferable. However, nothing helped! The Ministry suggested an extremely cynical argument 'Everything that is an advantage to the institute is a disadvantage to the state.'
After trying experiences like these he returns home an automatic pilot. He seems to be so exhausted he can't even wash himself. His supper is traditionally a cup of fragrant English tea and diabetic crisp bread. His illness failed to abate. It bides its time like a beast of prey waiting to attack him when he makes some careless step. Sometimes when he is almost asleep he hears the miraculous tune that makes him put new lyrical lines on paper…
A correspondent of a popular newspaper once asked him, 'What themes are you inspired by when you work at your songs?'
Rudnev answered without a moment's hesitation, 'God and Women.'
'Are they comparable?' the journalist doubted.
'They are. After God created the matter He gave a Woman his right to give life. In my opinion a Woman deserves to be put on a pedestal of life,' Rudnev responded.
This revelation never entered the newspaper feature story. The journalist must have regarded it just as a beautiful metaphor. He didn't realize the words express poetic and life credo of Alexander Rudnev and thread his life…

***
Alexander Rudnev is kept by his admirers after every recital. The informal third part turns into an excited talk about poetry and discussion about the purpose of life. In fact this is continuation of the confession he makes in his poems and songs. There were two meetings in his life that have left an indelible mark in his memory…
After the concert devoted to the celebration of the Victory Day an old grey-haired man with a cane approached Rudnev. The medal 'For bravery' was shining on his neat jacket that had gone out of fashion a long time before. He stood away because he didn't venture to interfere in the talk of the poet with his admirers. He even tried to leave but then he waited till Alexander stayed alone.
-Did you want to say anything, father?
-Yes… You see… The song… 'We gained Victory'…
-Didn't you like it?
-I did. The song is good and true. However…
…The old man stammered. One could see he could hardly talk. Big tears suddenly started running down his cheeks. Rudnev was confused. He produced a handkerchief out of his outside pocket and handed it to the old man. The man didn't notice this and wiped off his tears by his sleeve.
-That is true… We gained Victory… However, it's not the whole of the truth…
He began his story hurriedly stammering at almost every word as if he was afraid Rudnev wouldn't listen to the end of his story.
-…We were young lieutenants who graduated from military school after accelerated training and were sent to the front. When we found ourselves in hell we completely forgot all lessons in tactics that we had been taught at school. Moreover, they were not suitable for real tactical situation. In a word… Almost all soldiers of the company I was in command of were killed. I survived by some miracle and was taken prisoner… It still remains a mystery how I endured the atrocities of the concentration camp. In a word, I survived… When fascists were going to exterminate the prisoners in the camp we understood our troops were near. That meant some chance to survive so we decided to escape. Although the Germans were covering up their tracks they nevertheless organized chase… they caught everyone but me. I survived once again by some accident… When I reached our troops I thought I was born one more time. I remembered a Gipsy who told me when I was a child that some spell had been cast over me so I would always stay safe and sound. However, the major of the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs who interrogated me didn't believe any accidents. He didn't beat me. He turned out to be an educated man from a refined family because he used high-flown language and even recited poetry. However, he reminded of a beast at the bottom. 'Keep your tales about a Gipsy and some spell cast over you to the archangel who will meet you in heaven. Now confess when and how they won you over to their side.' I heard the same questions day after day. The more I vowed I hadn't betrayed my Motherland the less the major believed me. In the end I was sent to the battalion of military offenders… We knew only condemned men were sent there. It was enough to make everyone cry when we thought we were going to die. There were several weeks left before the war end… In a word, you understand the whole of the battalion was killed while I survived once again. It turned out the Gipsy didn't lie…
The old man started crying again. Rudnev carefully touched his sleeve.
-Stop crying, father. You did your soldier's duty properly. You shouldn't blame yourself that you survived. God must have protected you. I understand what you want me to do. I will write a poem about a battalion of military offenders and will invite you to the concert where this song is going to be performed.
He accompanied the old man to the exit where his two grandsons were waiting for him and wrote down his address and phone number. When he ca\me back home he lived the talk over and over again. Indeed, the problem of battalions of military offenders remained a white spot in the history of war. It goes without saying some people touched the problem. For example, the author of the book 'Icebreaker' Suvorov and the like asserted that cannon fodder that the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs turned millions of people into was a determinant of the victory over fascism rather than heroism and bravery of Soviet soldiers. This was propaganda paid for by the West that sought to complete victory over the USSR in the cold war with moral decay of Soviet people. Rudnev who was a historian realized this quite well.
Alexander who was excited by the story of the war veteran tried to sketch a poem about his fate the same evening. He failed to do this, however. This happened to him quite frequently because he had never been able to write poems to request. He had to outgrow the theme before writing about it.
Rudnev wrote his poem 'The battalion of military offenders' approximately half a year after the memorable meeting. He spent a sleepless night putting lines down in semi-delirium.
Vladimir Boudnik immediately caught the tone of his new verse. He phoned Rudnev the same day and invited him to his place.
Alexander realized the song turned out successfully.
They played back the tape several times. It seemed to Rudnev each time that the tune was acquiring some new notes because the music composed by Boudnik tirned out to be very deep and rich.
He wanted to phone the old man and to bring him to the place to listen to the song together. However, Alexander drove off the thought at once. The song 'A battalion of military offenders' wasn't meant for listening to at home. One had to listen to it at stadiums and in big halls. He waited till the time of the concert and phoned the man's number. Nobody answered. The same happened an hour later. The old man couldn't go out for so long. He told he lived alone and left home only to do some shopping. He must have been taken to hospital. If only Rudnev knew which one. He would have gone there and asked doctors to let the man leave the hospital for two hours. However, he had no time left to call clinics because there were a few hours left before the concert. He couldn't blame himself for anything because Rudnev had kept his word. However, Alexander wanted the old man to be present at the concert. He phoned many times before a young voice finally answered the phone, 'The grandfather died. We buried him yesterday…'
The second meeting Alexander still remembers was in Rudna where he dropped in at one summer evening. Neither his father nor his mother met him at the door of the house because both of them had been lying at the churchyard. Rudnev came there. He pulled up weeds and put a bunch of wild flowers on the graves of his parents and his grandmother. He did the same at the grave of Vladimir Semenovich and was pleased to see that the gravestone they erected with his assistance turned out to be quite solid. There had been several acts of vandalism when hooligans smeared gravestones of Soviet soldiers with red paint and turned then over. The reason was the anti-Soviet propaganda that reached even Belarus. The republic that lost every fourth of its inhabitants during the Great Patriotic War was now facing the prospect of emerging homebred fascists! Could his father and Uncle Vilodya imagine anything like this? Luckily, there were no thugs of the kind in Rudna…
Rudnev closed the gate of the fence around the grave of Vladimir Semenovich and headed for his parents' house. When he came to the village he saw an old woman who hurried towards him. Her face seemed familiar to Alrxander. Yet, a lot of time had passed since he left his native land so he had forgotten some people's names. When the old woman came close to him she gave him a bow. This was the usual way they greeted each other in Rudna. She looked into his eyes.
-Are you the son of Alexandra and Nikolai Rudnevs?
-I am, grandma.
-I am Bondar… Philip's wife.
Rudnev couldn't realize at first who she was talking about.
-How old are you, then?
-I am over ninety. It's time I died but I still go on living and bearing the heavy cross I inherited from him… From Philip.
-What cross is this, grandma?
The old woman gave him an intent look once again.
-I see you don't understand who I am.
It was only then that some vague guesses began to emerge in Alexander's mind. He was talking to the widow of Philip Bondar who wrote information against his grandfather Alexander Kirbay in 1937. When he visited Rudna Alexander always tried to find a minute to come to the house of this vile creature because he wanted to look into his eyes and ask him whether his conscience pricked him for what he had done. However, Philip Bondar avoided meeting him. Some years before Alexander found out the man had died and was buried at the same graveyard where his parents lied. The very thought that the informer was lying near the children of his victim didn't give Rudnev a moment's rest. If he could he would dig out his remains and throw them to latrine. Yet, he understood that neither law enforcement bodies nor God would allow him to do this. Now the widow of the man Alexander hated so much approached him for some reason. For a moment a wave of aversion swept over him and he was about to say something rude. However, he controlled himself and thought, 'As long as God allowed her to live to this advanced age the old woman must be innocent.'
-I know that you hated Philip and I feel you hate me, too. You have every right to do this. My husband's sin is on my conscience, too. I had to stop him when he and Semenov were writing information against Alexander Kirbay. I couldn't because I was afraid. My husband could beat me within an inch of my life. I was pregnant at the time. I begged him more than once afterwards, 'Go to church, repent your sins and ask God's forgiveness. Don't transfer people's hatred to your descendants.' He didn't even want to listen to me when I asked him to go to Marpha and ask her forgiveness. He remained adamant until his death. When he was dying he looked malicious as if these were people to blame for everything that had happened rather than him.
-Don't be remorseful. You didn't drive your husband to this crime. I am not to judge you. It is God that will judge everyone, including those who committed the crime and those who didn't manage to prevent it.
-Nevertheless, I ask your forgiveness!
The old woman knelt down and crossed herself.
-You shouldn't! Get up, please!
Rudnev tried to raise her but the woman kept kneeling and looking into his eyes.
-Get up at once! I forgive you…
Rudnev followed with his eyes the old woman who was walking barefoot stepping slowly on the dusty road.
The burden he had inside when he was talking to the widow of Bondar disappeared suddenly. It seemed to Alexander that Alexander Kirbay was watching the scene and accepted the woman's apologies. He returned to the graveyard haunted by the thought. Actually, the remains of Alexander Kirbay didn't lie at this graveyard because the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs never handed bodies of the executed men to their relatives to be buried. The grandfather's grave was empty. Still, Rudnev believed his grandfather's spirit was soaring somewhere nearby…
It was sultry. All living things came to a standstill in their midday drowsiness. Even delicate spider's webs were hanging in the air motionless. It was only loud rustle of grass near the graves that confirmed Alexander's guess…

 

DESTINY

After Rudnev defended his candidate's thesis he got down to writing the doctoral one at once. He followed advice of his research adviser and decided to continue research of national industry although the subject didn't inspire him very much. He didn't want to give up the information he had collected before because it would save him a couple of years. He didn't have the chance to escape from the institute on weekdays so Alexander spent in archives and in the library almost all of his weekends and sacrificed his holidays. He wrote the monograph surprisingly quickly. One of his friends who read the five-hundred-page work deep in its content and rich in original general conclusions asked him with distrusts, 'Sasha, did you really do the work on your own?'
Rudnev suddenly flared up, 'No, I didn't. '
-Do not take any offence. One man is unable to cope with this amount of work but a team of researchers can.
-I know what you're driving at. I consider it to be disgraceful when the head of some institute makes his employees for himself and doesn't disdain to put his name near the name of the real author of some research. I have never resorted to the practice. As far as a team of researchers is concerned, indeed, there were two of us. There were two Rudnevs. One of them worked at day time, the second one worked nights.
The head of the publishing house of the Byelorussian State University accepted the manuscript with undisguised happiness.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, your monograph seems to be very opportunely. The ministry criticizes us for the shallow nature of the works we publish. There aren't any serious research works. You know science doesn't earn people money today so teachers prefer to have several part-time jobs instead of doing research work. You've come to our help. I will send your manuscript to be reviewed right now. Don't be afraid, the monograph isn't going to lie too long in our publishing house. We'll publish it as soon as we proofread it. By the end of the year you may expect to be given an advance copy.
The talk to the head of the publishing house made Rudnev happy. He had already finished his work over the doctoral thesis; the only thing left was to get it up properly. However, he couldn't offer it for defense without a monograph, even though he had numerous publications in scientific journals. The Supreme Certifying Commission watched the requirement to be followed. A month later Rudnev asked the head of the publishing house how things were.
-Everything's all right, Alexander Nikolayevich. The manuscript has already been composed. They're correcting the proofs now. We have a review that is favorable. In a month you'll be given the first printer's proof.
Rudnev put down the receiver and rubbed his hands with excitement. He remembered an episode from the film about Lomonosov.
'We'll counter you with dissertations!' Alexander cried out addressing his invisible opponents.
Aliona Tsareva looked into his office anxiously.
-What's the matter, Alexander Nikolayevich?
Rudnev smiled, 'She must have thought goodness knows what!'
-That's OK, Aliona, thank you. I don't need anything. It's just emotions. I thought I was talking to myself in a low voice but it turned out to be too loud. Though… Will you bring a cup of tea, please? You know, make yourself one, too. We'll have a chat for a while if you aren't in a hurry, of course. The working day is over…
Rudnev paid attention to this diligent girl when she was a student at his institute. The girl was notable for the unpretentious beauty that is typical only of those who were born in the rural area. He face was not spoilt by use of make-up. It always glowed with freshness and genuine sincerity. When she graduated he offered her a job at the publishing department of the institute. When Aliona was typing manuscripts of his books she sometimes turned to him asking to decipher unfamiliar words in illegible handwriting. Aliona was always careful and accurate. She noticed even minor stylistic mistakes. When she pointed at his lame phrase one day Rudnev got angry, 'You are to type the manuscript rather than edit it!'
When he saw the girl turned red and could hardly fight back tears Rudnev was sorry he used these sharp words. Several days later he called her to his office.
-Aliona, I'm sorry for the tactlessness I committed last time. I was wrong. I didn't mean to hurt you. I did it by accident. I've taken account of your hint. The phrase was lame, indeed, so I edited it. Thank you!
Aliona Tsareva got confused. Her face turned red once again.
-I didn't take any offence, Alexander Nikolayevich. I know you're having hard times. All employees at the institute wonder how you cope with this amount of work.
-Aliona, in future I ask you to read my manuscripts not as a proofreader but as a stylist. You quite conform to the status so I will take account of this when I pay you salary. In a word, I ask you to help me!..
Unlike other teachers who allowed chummy manners with students and flirted with girls dropping transparent hints about their wish to have closer relations with them Rudnev always addressed his employees in a polite way and never allowed any liberties. However, this didn't prevent truly friendly relations between him and the students. The rector was loved at the institute for his honesty, plain dealing, care, democracy and sincerity. He treated both professors and students in an equally careful way. Despite age difference he easily came to terms with the youth. He willingly participated in their cultural activities. There were legends about his physical strength at the institute. One day Rudnev lifted a heavy thirty-kilo weight twenty times in front of the curious students who gathered in the gym to have a look at the rector. One of the students decided to put up a good show, too. He seized the weight with both hands, hardly lifted it over his head and almost dropped it swinging under the weight that was too heavy for him. Alexander carefully took the weight out of the student's hands and put it onto the floor.
-Don't ever try to do something you're not sure of!
Several months later Rudnev's secretary resigned her job so he offered the position to Aliona Tsareva. The girl agreed though she was hesitating.
-Alexander Nikolayyevich, what will you do if I don't cope with the job?
Rudnev tried to look serious.
-If you don't cope I'll fire you without giving any severance pay.
He said this in s such a benevolent tone that the girl smiled.
-You won't.
-Why?
-Just because.
Aliona blushed with embarrassment and ran out of the rector's office. Rudnev's heart was palpitating. He felt some inexplicable joy inside. He was about to take a pen and put down some new lines but the call from the ministry poured cold water on the fire of his passion that flared up so suddenly.
Alexander had an analytical mind so after he came home he tried to find the reason for the sudden inspiration. He experienced something of the kind in his youth. He had been living alone for quite a long time and dealt with women at work only. Even the most attractive ones interested him merely as teachers. He was sure no one was ever going to ignite in his soul the feelings that died out a long time ago. He wasn't in the least upset by this. Then suddenly he faced this outbreak of emotions.
'Have you fallen in live, old fellow?' Alexander addressed his inner self.
'Don't behave oddly! It's not your nature!' his invisible double objected. 'Besides… Can you fall in love with the girl who's young enough to be your daughter? Indeed, she's beautiful and charming. However, you shouldn't lose your head. You're merely tired of loneliness. It will be over one day.'
Alexander had to agree with the last argument. He tried not to return to the forbidden ground in his thoughts…
The door of the office opened and the secretary entered. She was holding a tray with two cups of tea and a plate of finely cut sausage and cheese on it. Rudnev jumped out of the table hurriedly.
-You should have told me! I would have helped you! Where from did you get the delicacies?
-I made a quick run over to the coffee bar. Neither food nor drink had passed your lips since morning. Your fridge at home must be empty. You'll ruin your stomach and then you'll suffer all your life!
The sandwiches made by he secretary seemed to be extremely tasty. Alexander remembered his childhood. He used to play outside with his friends from morning till night. When he got hungry he dropped in at the house, grabbed a piece of brown bread and rushed out of the house without listening to his mother who asked him to sit down to the table and have the first course…
They talked for an hour and a half and didn't even notice it had grown dark outside. Rudnev recollected suddenly and offered to give the girl a lift but she refused flatly.
-No, thank you. It's not too late. The bus makes a stop right near my house. Besides, I have to drop in at the grocer's because my mum asked me to buy something for supper.
When Rudnev recollected the evening he failed to remember what they were talking about. However, there was some warm feeling inside him…

***
Several months passed but there was no news from the publishing house. The second reader also gave a favorable review of the dissertation and recommended it to be published. However, they didn't publish the monograph. At first the head of the publishing house alleged some urgent work ordered from above, and then he started to avoid meeting Alexander. A year later it turned out the manuscript had to be reduced by almost by half. It goes without saying Rudnev objected to it.
-You should understand this is academic research. When you were accepting my manuscript you said you face shortage of serious works. You weren't confused by the size of my work at the time. If I make these reductions many of my conclusions will hang poised in midair. By the way, neither of the reviewers requires any reductions. Whose decision is this, then? Do you mean you lack paper? I don't believe it! Last year you published so much pseudoscientific literature that one might as well call you to account for this wastefulness.
'Alexander Nikolayevich, I'm very sorry, but if you don't reduce the manuscript we won't be able to publish your book,' the head of the publishing house insisted.
Whatever arguments Rudnev tried to give they didn't work. It was clear the head of the publishing house delays publishing the monographs against his own free will. Somebody from above must have required this.
Four years passed. The monograph was badly behind the times. The work that took many years went down the tube through the arbitrary rule of officials. If this had happened in some Western state Rudnev would have made the officials pay him a round sum that would be enough for several years of comfortable life. In our country, however, the court wouldn't even consider the case.
However disappointing it might seem Rudnev decided to give his doctoral thesis up as bad job. He dived into social and political writing. By the time the Humanitarian and Economic Institute had been given a license for publishing activities so no one could hinder his work any more. Rudnev's works became known outside the country. Some foreign scholarly journals of authority started to refer to them. Once, Rudnev was brought one of the journals with his article on interdependence of economics and politics during the period of transition from command economy to market economy. Everything seemed to be quite correct at first sight. The publication was signed by his name. However, the more carefully Alexander read the familiar text the more horrified he was. The theoretical part of the article remained unchanged. Some unfamiliar editor didn't even infringe on punctuation marks though Rudnev sometimes may deviate from grammar rules consciously when putting them to emphasize an important idea. All his examples, however, were substituted by Ukrainian similar ones. Rudnev dialed one of the phone number given in the journal and contacted the editor who prepared his article for publishing. The man was a little bit confused.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, of course I'm to blame I didn't manage to find you and to send you the manuscript for signature of endorsement. We needed urgently a title article for our issue. I came across your work quite by chance. When I read it I was staggered by the way you researched the problem and by your original ideas. We face the same situation in Ukraine just as you do in Belarus. It seemed to me it would be a good idea to use other examples instead of yours. I guarantee the examples are reliable. I hope you'll forgive my liberty and offer one of your most recent research works to the international section of our journal.
Soon Alexander Rudnev was visited by a representative delegation from the International Personnel Academy that had its headquarters in Kiev. This authoritative research and educational establishment is famous all over the world. There are its branches in dozens of countries that unite altogether over fifty five thousand students and scientists, including those who have worldwide reputation. They have a campus of 18 buildings in Kiev. By the way, before Viktor Yushchenko was elected president of Ukraine he headed Economic Department of the Academy.
-We've heard a lot about your research work and your institute so we wanted to get acquainted with you.
The head of the delegation shook Rudnev's hand.
-Judging by your works we imagined you to be an academician of the classical type who wears a thick beard and has otherworldly look. Now we see a young and energetic man who looks more like a sportsman who has just retired rather than an academician.
-I am neither an academician nor a professor.
The guest looked at Rudnev in embarrassment.
-Sorry, are you Alexander Nikolayevich Rudnev who is rector of the Humanitarian and Economic Institute?
-Absolutely right.
-You aren't an academician, are you?
-That's true.
-Why so?
The Ukrainians were extremely surprised. It couldn't even occur to them that a scientist whose works are known in many countries of the world is an ordinary candidate of sciences. They didn't even believe his story about the misadventure with his monograph at first. In the course of their talk that lasted for many hours they returned more than once to the fact that had staggered them so much. When they were parting, the guests offered, 'Alexander Nikolayevich, we've contacted President of the International Personnel Academy Georgy Vasilyevich Shchiokin and informed him about the results of our trip to Minsk. Now on behalf of the president we ask you to do us an honor and send one of your academic research works for defense of your doctoral thesis.'
This unexpected meeting helped Rudnev restore his liking for science. He got down to the work over a new thesis titled 'Trends of political development under reforms of public life in the Republic of Belarus.' He wrote the thesis in a burst of inspiration.
He was extremely nervous before his defense in Kiev. He was going to be alone there without his friends' countenance. He wondered how his opponents were going to behave. Public polemics is one thing and secret ballot is just the other. He was standing on the platform and looked round automatically hoping for some familiar face in the crowd. He was about to get into the carriage when he saw a representative delegation of his employees who were approaching him with bouquets of flowers.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, we wish you good luck. Get back with your shield!
The words pulled at his heartstrings. Alexander stood on the platform with an armful of flowers and didn't know what to do. Conductors and passengers watched the unusual seeing off with curiosity.
-Thank you, dear colleagues! I'm very much touched. I just wonder what to do with all these flowers.
The conductors at the deluxe train 'Minsk-Kiev' might have never had a more sweet-smelling trip.
The assembly hall of the Academy where the defense took place turned out to be crowded out. The situation in the neighboring Belarus differed radically from the political situation inside Ukraine. Social scientists wanted to know the opinion of a competent man about this situation.
The defense lasted more than three hours and ended in triumph. Both the reviewers and those who spoke in the debate noted unanimously acute political nature of the issues raised and economic validity of answers to them. When the chairman of the specialized Academic Senate was summing the debate he couldn't conceal his surprise, 'We were presented research work that is a big contribution to the political science. As far as its topicality and depth is concerned this is research deserving attention of scientists. In its nature this is a brilliant example of social and political writing. I would like to make a special emphasis on this feature. It's not common with scientists to use elevated style. Strict scholarly thought does not tolerate any artistic features. However, this work is an example of the work where figurativeness intersperses with the content so naturally that we might as well speak about know-how.'
In accordance with the charter of the International Personnel Academy Rudnev was handed his diploma of doctor of political sciences right after the results of the voting of the members of the specialized Academic Senate were announced. During the improvised banquet that was held after the official defense ceremony was over Alexander heard a lot of compliments. However, he was pleased much more by the appreciation of his institute rather than by personal recognition. He was chosen a collective member of the International Personnel Academy and acquired the right to give his graduates diplomas of international standard. As provided by this decision the Humanitarian and Economic Institute was renamed as the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute. A bit later Alexander Rudnev was conferred the title of professor on him and chosen an academician of the International Personnel Academy…
When Alexander was approaching his flat after he returned from Kiev he heard the phone ringing persistently behind the door. When he entered the flat the phone stopped ringing. Several minutes later he heard another call. There was silence in the receiver. He could hear somebody's distinct interrupted breathing. Rudnev realized that some stranger didn't venture to begin the talk for some reason. He was about to hang up the receiver thinking some teenagers might be playing their tricks when he heard a familiar voice, 'Alexander Niokolayevich, this is Aliona speaking. Sorry for disturbing you… I just wanted to find out how are things with your defense… I was worried so much…'
-Dear Aliona, thank you very much! Everything went on well… You even can't imagine how happy I am to hear you talking. Thank you! Where are you? Come here and we'll celebrate my doctoral thesis.
-No, I can't… Good bye!
Rudnev wanted to say something and to convince her there was nothing wrong about drinking a glass of champagne but he heard frequent beeps in the receiver. He was sorry he didn't know the home phone number of his secretary. To tell the truth, however, he wasn't even sure she had any phone number at all.
Soon after Tsareva's call his daughter phoned, as well as many of his friends did. They congratulated him, expressed their admiration and wished more success. The phone didn't stop ringing but he felt lonely for some reason. Every time he picked up the receiver he caught himself at the thought he would like to hear Aliona's voice once again. If he had known her address he would have ventured to come to her place. In the meanwhile, the phone was silent as if guarding him against any thoughtless actions.

***
The next day after Rudnev returned from Kiev turned into a nightmare. His employees, students, friends and acquaintances came to his office to congratulate him on the academic title of the doctor of political sciences conferred on him. Very soon his office was buried in sweet-smelling flowers.
One of Rudnev's sham friends phoned
-I heard you're again in the saddle, old fellow?
-You and the others would like to see me upon my shield rather than with it.
-Don't get angry. I am really glad for you.
Rudnev has always been surprised by the ability of some people, especially politicians, to change their masks. They were able to turn into bitter enemies from bosom friends and then turn into friends again when it was necessary. Moreover, they did this so skillfully that he couldn't but believe involuntarily the likelihood of the transformations that took place before his very eyes…
The Ministry of Justice confirmed the documents asserting the new status of the institute surprisingly quickly. Giving a new license the official who used to lead him up the garden path for months said, 'Now you're a big shot, Alexander Nikolayevich. Don't forget, however, when rising beyond the clouds that it hurts more when one falls from there.'
This might have been a commonplace joke but it seemed to Rudnnev there was some warning in it. He turned out to be right later.
The news that graduates of the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute would be given both state diplomas and diplomas of international standard that enjoys recognition abroad improved its image even more. There weren't any analogues in the country. Hundreds of students from other private higher education establishments applied to be transferred to the IHEI. They started to rumor that Rudnev was making use of unfair competition practices. In time of a meeting of rectors when they tried to obstruct him Alexander sustained all malicious attacks and remained calm, 'Gentlemen, will you quiet down, please? We aren't at a market where people may scratch each other's eyes out for a bunch of parsley sold cheaper than theirs. I don't issue any visas to Ukraine. You should turn to the corresponding bodies, go to Kiev and obtain the same right to give diplomas of international standard. I'm ready to provide each of you with the contact details to do with the International Personnel Academy.'

***
Alexander was curious to take a detached view at himself. He turned to his inner self quite frequently of late.
-I'm afraid, old fellow, the girl has enchanted you by something.
-Nonsense. It's no love at all. These are merely tricks of crafty testosterone. A man can't do without a woman at your age. You should pick up some cute student. I see many girls admire you. Take her out to some bar and invite her home for a cup of coffee. Should I teach you how things like these must be done?
-What a vulgar man you are! How can you say things like this about girls?
-Oh! We're so pure and honest! It seems you don't live in the third millennium but got stuck somewhere in the 20s of the past century. Your female students must wear red kerchiefs and entreat each other, 'you should die rather then kiss someone you don't love!' Look around! Everyone lives according to market laws. Love is sold and bought in the same way as vegetables at Komarovsky market. You should just watch the article is not rotten.
-No, I can't live like this!
-Then you should stop complaining. You should remember the present-day common truth saying those who are clever and rich make others serve them while those who are stupid and poor serve themselves.
If Rudnev could he would slap his double in the face for these dirty hints. However, the latter realized what trouble it was in for, had his tail between his legs and kept silent. Alexander had an inexorable wish to put down some new lines that are usually born when one is young.
When he met Aliona the next morning he looked aside. It seemed to him the girl had overheard his inner monologue and despised him for his frivolous thoughts. It seemed to Aliona, in her turn, that she had broken some invisible brink that always separates employees from their boss. That evening for the first time in the last few weeks Rudnev didn't ask Aliona to bring him a cup of tea. His secretary didn't remind him about this either. They restored former distance by mutual silent consent…
Alexander began to have the blues though there were not any apparent causes for this. He solved different matters at the institute as if he was doing some painful duty. He got irritated at every trifle. He cursed his driver who had just begun to work for him for no reason at all. The man was recommended by his former colleagues. He seemed to be doing everything thoroughly. He kept the car in perfect order. He tried to please Rudnev so he opened and closed the door of the car for him running ahead hastily. He didn't grumble when he had to stay at work after the working day was over. However, the attentiveness of the driver seemed intentional to Rudnev. He couldn't explain why he disliked the man.
Alexander broke the stable tradition of exercising in the gym he had equipped to keep fit. The change of mood affected his poetry that was now full of melancholic notes.
Vladimir Boudnik was delighted with his new verses.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, you're a born lyricist! Why did you conceal the feelings for so long? So many songs could have been created!
'If all the children we conceive were given birth to the Earth would have become overpopulated a long time ago,' Rudnev joked sadly.
He tried to explain his change of mood time after time and to discover the origins of the unexpected melancholy but didn't manage to find any apparent causes. There was some premonition inside that worried him.
In order to shake off the burden of the sad thoughts he offered his secretary one day, 'Aliona Mikhailovna, will you do me a favor to keep my company for supper. I don't even remember when I ate properly last time. I find it a bit dull to have supper alone.'
The girl got lost. It was not proper to turn down the boss' offer. Moreover, it seemed to her he had been displeased with her recently. Agreement implied provoking gossip at the institute in case they met some acquaintance!
Rudnev read her mind and reassured her, 'We'll go to the country. There are some cozy restaurants and cafes there. None of our institute employees is likely to drop in at the place on this gloomy day.'
Aliona overcame her hesitation and agreed. When she was getting into the car she caught a displeased look of the driver and regretted her decision but it was too late to change her mind, anyway.
The rain was becoming stronger. Windscreen wipers hardly managed to clear the windscreen. It was pitch-dark. However, Rudnev knew the restaurant they were heading for quite well because he had had dinner with his friends there several times. Unlike most public catering establishments scattered along the highway 'Brest-Moscow' that didn't have any refined cuisine the one they were going to had a good choice of dishes and good service.
They had already laid the table for two in a cozy corner of the restaurant because Rudnev had seen to it in advance. The driver refused to have supper with them.
-My wife gave me a snack. She'll be upset if I bring it back.
The shyness that fettered their talk during the first minutes of the supper was over soon. An hour and a half slid unnoticed. Aliona was interested how songs were created, where from he takes the theme and how words turn into rhyming lines. She confessed she tried to write verses when a child but she never wrote anything that could touch the heart. Alexander found attentive audience so he went on talking. He recollected himself only when he noticed Aliona had only taken a sip of wine and had eaten almost nothing.
-Don't you like the meal? Shall I order something else?
-No, you shouldn't. I was just listening spellbound to you.
He saw the girl was talking sincerely so Rudnev risked reciting her the poem 'Destined to love' he had written several days before. Aliona's face became redder and redder when she was listening to it. When Alexander finished reciting she said to hide her embarrassment, 'What a wonderful poem! I am excited by it. Only the one who's deep in love may write a poem like this. I suppose the woman these lines are devoted to is every wonderful.'
'She is, indeed!' Alexander confirmed. Then he looked at Aliona's face and added, 'Or rather, she's a girl…'
Aliona pretended she didn't hear the slip of the tongue.
When they left the restaurant Rudnev noticed the driver was talking to someone on the mobile phone. When he saw them he interrupted the talk and explained as if apologizing, 'My wife was worried the car might break down.'
-Phone her to tell you'll be back home in half an hour.
-That's OK. I told her to have supper without waiting for me.
The rain had almost stopped. It was drizzling. It seemed to Rudnev the driver was excited.
'Is anything the matter?' he asked the man.
-Everything is OK. I just had a look at the engine jacket while you were having supper. I would like to ask you a day off to have the car serviced. Something must be wrong with the engine. It doesn't work properly. Have a look, the pointer of the tachometer is waving to and fro.
Rudnev knew cars quite well so he didn't see any problems with the engine. He didn't pay any special attention to the words of the driver. Moreover, he complimented him for his zeal in his mind. The previous driver had to be constantly reminded about maintenance checkup.
When they were not far from the city Alexander noticed the driver was turning to a country road.
-Why are you turning? We should go straight.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, I have always wanted to show you a unique corner of the countryside. Imagine a small pond with willow trees growing around and swans swimming in it. If you have a look at the miracle I'm sure you will write a brilliant song. Aliona Mikhailovna is going to like the place, too. It is close by. We'll be there in a couple of minutes!
-You'll show us the place next time. We're busy now.
-Let me do this now. When cold sets in the swans will fly away so you won't be able to admire them.
-They'll be back next spring. Turn back!
-We've almost come. We'll have a look and drive back home. Five minutes won't matter.
- I order you to turn back! Don't you understand me?
-Well, I'm trying my best…
The driver opened up the engine and the car rushed forward jumping on the uneven road. Small stones were banging at the bottom of the car. Rudnev understood there was some hidden design. The driver was trying to drive them somewhere at all cost. Where to? He was unlikely to be willing to show them swans. There must be no trace of any swans there. What were they in for? He looked back. Aliona was numb with fear in her seat. Her eyes were full of horror…
Once, Rudnev confessed to David Rotman he kept a carbine under his bed just in case. The man didn't believe him. When he got convinced of this, however, he gave a gasp of surprise, 'Sasha! Isn't that cute of you?'
Besides a carbine Rudnev had a handgun that he always kept in his pochette. No one knew about this, including Aliona and the new driver who persisted in driving forward quickly. Soon they saw two cars of foreign make at the side of the road. Three men were talking briskly standing near one of the cars.
'Pull up!' Rudnev cried.
The driver didn't react. The car slowed down a bit but went on driving. Rudnev seized the gun out of the pochette and put it against the driver's neck.
-If you don't turn back right now I'll smash your head!
The car made a steep turn, almost overturned and stopped. Alexander looked at the rear-view mirror and noticed the strangers looked at each other and headed for the car. There was about a hundred meters between them. Rudnev got out of the car, opened the driver's door, grabbed the driver by the collar and threw him out of the car. Then he took the driver's place and accelerated. The powerful off-road vehicle roared, reared up and started with a jerk. One of the cars followed them for some time but fell behind soon. At the entrance to the city Rudnev almost flew past the post of the road police. He noticed at the very last moment a militiaman who was running to intercept his car waving his baton resolutely. He must be expecting to see a drunken man driving the car. He examined Rudnev and his traveling companion suspiciously and studied his certificate of employment and driving license for a long time.
'Why did you break the speed limit? You were driving at a speed of over one hundred kilometers!' Then the militia man softened his tone and joked, 'you must have been escaping from your wife, professor!'
'You won't be able to escape from your wife, comrade lieutenant even when you drive at the speed of two hundred kilometers!' Alexander responded.
'That's true,' the pleased man hemmed. 'They haven't invented anything yet to help the man caught in the act by his wife to help him escape from the scene of the crime.'
-I am sorry. I'm ready to pay the fine.
The lieutenant scratched his head. He looked at the frightened Aliona and said, 'OK. You may continue your journey. It's not proper for me as a student of the Law Faculty who studies by correspondence courses to fine a professor… '
Rudnev's hands shook after the stress they survived. The behavior of his driver was a mystery he had to solve at any cost. Suddenly a guess flashed in his mind like alighttning. He stopped at the side of the road.
'What's the matter?' Aliona asked him. She couldn't get rid of the feeling they were still being pursued.
-Nothing is. I just want to check something.
Rudnev got out of the car and opened the boot. He stood there gazing inside. Two minutes later the girl got out of the car and saw a terrible picture. There was an axe similar to those used to cut carcasses at the butcher's and two plastic bags that a person's body could fit into.
'Are these yours?' Aliona asked. She looked at Rudnev's face and realized her question was foolish. She started shivering. 'Alexander Nikolayevich, did they want to kill us?'
Rudnev kept silence. He didn't want to scare the girl. However, it was too evident what the things he found in the boot were meant for. The driver and the strangers who were waiting for them at the country road must have acted in collusion. They must have planned to trap Rudnev and his traveling companion to some abandoned place, to kill them, to cut their bodies, to pack them into plastic bags and throw into some swamp.
The driver never arrived at work. The attempts to find him took Rudnev nowhere. It seemed the man had vanished into thin air. It was clear he had been hired by someone and now when the attempted murder failed he had disappeared from anybody's view and could be hiding somewhere abroad. Who were the people who wanted to kill Rudnev? The question hasn't still been answered.
After the terrible incident Rudnev wrote his poem 'The troika of life.'

***
Cooperation with the International Personnel Academy was developing increasingly. Very soon several IHEI employees submitted their theses for defense in Kiev. Aliona Tsareva became candidate of jurisprudence. In a short space of time the girl made such a great progress that even Rudnev who was her research advisor could hardly believe this. One day he told the girl, 'It seems to me, Aliona Mikhailovna, the position of the secretary doesn't suit you any.'
'Do you want to dismiss me?' the girl asked anxiously. 'I must admit I have neglected my work a bit because of the work over my thesis but I promise to set things right. Just give me some time!'
-You have misunderstood me. I just meant it's too big a luxury to have a candidate of sciences as a secretary. You're past the stage for the post. I offer you the position of the deputy director general.
He saw unfeigned horror on Tsareva's face.
'Your deputy?' she specified. She couldn't believe here ears.
-Yes.
-But I won't cope, I'm afraid!
'If you don't I'll fire you without any severance payment,' Rudnev repeated the joke he said once.
-What are other employees going to think? There are many scientists at the institute who have a wealth of experience and who have every reason to be given this position of responsibility.
'You are quite right. You don't have a lot of experience at the moment. Nevertheless, when you worked as a secretary you went deep into details of university activity and you know the employees quite well As far as organizational skills are concerned you certainly don't want any. Besides, you know…,' Rudnev made a pause thinking how to express his idea in a more accurate way so that Aliona wouldn't misunderstand him. 'You see I need an energetic and trustworthy assistant I can rely on. I've become extremely tired. I'm not going to conceal I'd like to shift some of my duties onto my deputy. Frankly speaking, I can't think of a more appropriate person than you are…'
The news that Aliona Tsareva was nominated deputy director general swept over the institute. Female employees keen on gossiping made a conclusion there was some intimacy between her and the director general. Things started moving! One woman said she saw Rudnev and Tsareva kissing. Another one asserted they had lived together for a long time. The most 'competent' ones whispered Aliona gave birth to a boy and that they were hiding the baby from people at her mother's. They considered Rudnev's love lyrics to be the most persuasive argument. His collection of poems 'It is Belarus that I love' sold like hot cakes.
'It is impossible to think up unearthly love,' institute employees who considered themselves to be good at psychology persuaded and recited Alexander's popular poem.
Those who were skeptical objected to them, 'The poem says about love for God rather than about love for a woman. You know Rudnev can't live a day without a prayer. There are icons and the Bible on his desktop.'
'What does God have to do with this?' supporters of earthly supernatural love defended their opinion. 'Just consider this line, 'Unearthly love awakens passion in early spring…' Love for God is Platonic while these words contain some sinful meaning!'
To confirm their guesses young female employees who used to be on friendly terms with Aliona Tsareva's tried to learn the secret of Rudnev's soul from her. They failed, however because Aliona started to treat friendly relations in a stricter and more scrupulous way after she was appointed deputy director general. No one could reproach her with arrogance that many people display after they get promoted. Rather, she remained a natural and open personality. However, she tabooed any talks about her private life or the life of the director general. One of her friends persisted in drawing her out.
-I don't understand why you hide your feelings!
- I am surprised at you. Both Alexander Nikolayevich and I are in the public view all day long. Why should we hide from anyone?
The female employee went away empty-handed. The gossip about intimacy between Rudnev and Tsareva were not proved and died away gradually…
The news that the International Personnel Academy was going to organize an exposition devoted to the IHEI agitated everyone. Although the exposition was not to affect the future of the institute in any particular way each of the employees considered this to be a great honor. Departments at the institute boiled up with ideas. This was the unity of people Alexander Rudnev dreamt about when he established his institute. The institute was on the brink of being closed more than once through opposition of officials. Several generations of teachers changed throughout these years. Those who were weak left after they faced difficulties while the strong ones were only hardened by all hardships. As a result, the institute was similar to flint that could be used to strike fire and that was impossible to break.
The exposition of the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute aroused sincere interest with Kiev inhabitants. Teachers and students of higher educational establishments as well as common people visited it, asked their questions and marveled.
-I didn't think you have any private higher educational establishments in Belarus. Ukrainian media write that you had Soviet system restored, that students are sent to rural areas to help harvest potatoes every autumn and that they are sent to work in some provinces without fail after they graduate.
Alexander Rudnev acknowledged some of this was true as far as state education system was concerned. He pointed to the fact that besides stet establishments there are also private higher education establishments.
People were most interested in education fees at the IHEI. When they found out that parents whose children studied at the day department had to pay only 700-800 dollars a year while those who had education by correspondence paid only 450 dollars as fee people found this hard to believe as education fees were much higher in Kiev.
'May I send my grandson to study at your institute? He's an orphan. I am the only one to take care of him. I save some money every month. However, when he enters some institute in Kiev my savings won't be enough to pay for a year. My grandson is very clever…,' an old woman kept asking.
'He may enter our institute. It's not nationality that is important. The main thing is he should do well in his studies,' Rudnev said.
One of the days the exposition was visited by Leonid Kravchuk. Rudnev couldn't believe his eyes. He couldn't even imagine the president of the country would visit this common event. At first he thought this was the president's double because he didn't observe any agitation that accompanies movement of the Byelorussian head of state. When a new cinema was opened in Minsk security officials searched every corner in the district. It was more difficult to get to the cinema that to Lenin's mausoleum.
After he watched the exposition Leonid Kravchul came up to Rudnev and shook his hand.
-Well done! There aren't many institutes like yours in Ukraine…
When he was saying goodbye he asked Rudnev, 'Do you know Shushkevich?'
-Of course I do, Leonid Makarovich. We taught at the same university.
-Give him my best regards!

***
Rudnev made use of the right to supplement the list of disciplines approved by the Ministry for Education with course at the institute's discretion and experimented constantly displaying surprising insight. His innovations were frequently treated by officials and his colleagues with skepticism and even rejection. However, after a year or two passed the specialties tested at the IHEI were included into educational package of other higher educational establishments. They became extremely alerted at the Ministry for Education when they found out the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute rendered assistance to the school of catechists and introduced a course of lectures 'The fundamentals of Christianity.'
'Alexander Nikolayevich, do you remember church is separated from state in Belarus?' the head of the department expressed his anxiety. 'You'd better render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. Let the Higher Ecclesiastical Academy train priest while we train specialists in secular spheres.'
-Gentlemen, when are we finally going to learn to think in a dialectical way and to separate tops from roots? Christianity defined the spiritual atmosphere our ancestors lived in for two thousand years. The faith in God was transferred from generation to generation on genetic level. It didn't die away even at the time of militant atheism when through thoughtlessness of Bolsheviks they destroyed churches and temples and sent bells to be melted. The difference was that people hid it deep inside rather than flaunted it. The socialist state was well aware of this so it never depreciated the role Christianity played in the development of civilization. The course 'Fundamentals of Christianity' is a section in the studies of our history. I mean the history that was suppressed and distorted due to some ideological reasons. Thanks God times have changed so our duty is to remove these white spots.
The new course caused a stir among students. Lectures were given by a young priest who came to the institute in appropriate priestly vestments that of interest to students in itself. Lectures were held in the assembly hall that was always crowded. Teachers who gave others subjects complained to Rudnev, 'Alexander Nikolayevich, will you shift the course 'Fundamentals of Christianity' to evening time or to weekends. It's impossible to work because students seem to disappear in a split second to listen to the lectures. We wonder what this priest entices them with.'
Rudnev advised, 'You should go and listen to his lectures, too. It wouldn't be a bad thing to learn elocution and the skill to reason your thoughts from this man.'
One day the priest was accompanied by metropolitan Philaret to the institute. The news swept over the corridors of the institute like a lightning. Rudnev hastened to meet the distinguished guest. He congratulated the metropolitan and said, 'Your Eminence, I deeply regret you haven't warned us about your visit so that we could meet you properly.'
-You do an honor both to me and the Byelorussian Orthodox Church by paying so much attention to studies of the history of religion. We're going through hard times. After the tragic collapse of the great power and the change of the social and political system that followed, millions of people lost their moral guidelines. This may bring about spiritual discord. The frauds who distort the teaching of Christ by preaching sectarianism make use of this. People go to church because they follow fashion rather than dictates of their souls. You're doing a virtuous cause helping lost sheep to follow the straight and narrow. When officials from the Ministry for education found out about the visit of the metropolitan to the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute they reprimanded Rudnev, 'How did you venture to neglect ideological guidelines. Your meeting with the metropolitan is a challenge to authorities.'
-It's a hint rather than a challenge. One shouldn't assume attitude to official ideology as a basis for state policy. Dissidents shouldn't be prosecuted. Church does not alienate non-believers and those who doubt. On the contrary, it tries to attract them and to bring them to their senses by the teaching of Christ. Alexander Rudnev's forecast turned out to be prophetical. Some years later the Ministry for Education made an agreement about cooperation with the exarchate of the Byelorussian Orthodox Church. The parties agreed on an extensive program of joint activities aimed at spiritual education of the youth.
Rudnev was planning to celebrate his fiftieth anniversary privately. However, the leadership of the institute talked him into timing the celebration to the festive meeting devoted to the IHEI being admitted to the International Personnel Academy. Alexander invited Philaret to the festive occasion.
-Dear Alexander Nikolayevich, I know about the anniversary and I am sure to come to congratulate you and give my blessing to your future deeds to the glory of God. Let me ask you where you are going to celebrate this occasion.
Rudnev was confused. It would be extremely awkward to receive such a distinguished guest at home.
-Your Eminence, I was sure I was not worthy of the attention of the distinguished person like you so I tried not to bother you with my everyday affairs. Let me bring you the invitation in person. I'll be happy to see you at this modest occasion.
They had to organize a stand-up party hastily. Several ambassadors, famous scientists, deputies, businessmen and popular actors came to congratulate Alexander. It wasn't a secret to anyone that the metropolitan was on the list of guests. That is why the man's absence gave rise to whispering. It runs in our people that even among those who're disposed favorably towards you there's always someone who is be glad when you have some misfortune.
-When Rudnev invited Philaret he exposed himself. He is not the person who is visited by the head of church without ceremony.
-Yes, that's an awkward situation, indeed.
-I say one gets what one deserves.
-Philaret may be delayed by some business.
-That's highly unlikely. I hear the metropolitan is forbidden to visit private parties.
-Have a look at Rudnev. He's looking around as if he still hopes for something. What an odd fellow he is!
Suddenly everyone started whispering, 'Look, he's coming!'
The metropolitan was advancing the hall with measured step nodding to greetings. He was followed by a young monk who carried a huge bouquet of flowers. Philaret approached the table where Rudnev sat and presented him the flowers.
-Dear Alexander Nikolayevich, let me congratulate you on your anniversary and wish you to live a long life for the benefit of your relatives and your Motherland. Your work aimed at educating youth in Christian traditions deserves respect and support…
The congratulation of the metropolitan full of figures of speech and references to the Bible turned into a brilliant sermon. Everyone listened to him with bated breath and envied Rudnev. The behavior of Philaret whose every step was in the public eye was hard to take in. The authorities didn't display much consideration to Rudnev. On the contrary, he belonged to those people who were prejudiced against. It goes without saying the metropolitan was well aware of this. He also knew that his presence at the birthday of the disgraced scientist would be reported to his leadership. Nevertheless, he found it possible to come though he could confine to sending a letter of congratulation and a bouquet of flowers.
When people come across some phenomena they fail to understand they're frequently inclined the exaggerate them, to see some implication and presage of events to come. Rudnev's guests were not the men in the street who were unable to consider facts. Neither were they na?ve dreamers who believe human life doesn't depend on external factors and who think each of us may define their behavior. They patterned their behavior on the Scylla and Charybdis of the order established in the country, on 'may' and 'must'. Only outspoken fools or those who are allowed to break laws and unwritten rules are guided by the saying, 'If you aren't allowed to do something but you're eager to then you may do it.' The metropolitan belonged to neither group so his behavior gave rise to incredible rumors.
Hardly had the guests discussed the visit of the metropolitan when delegations from Orthodox parishes in Zhitkovichy and Kalinkovichy arrived. They presented the hero of the occasion with huge round loaves of bread and bouquets of flowers. They wished Alexander to live a long life and told about the assistance he had rendered to them for many years. The fact convinced the guests some serious changes were in the offing in Rudnev's life…
The thoughts of the hero of the occasion were far from the sinful Earth. He even didn't guess about the gossip of the guests. He took faith in God in with his mother's milk and kept it hiding carefully from his father's anger who considered church to be the breeding ground for obscurantism. He concealed his faith from party officials in the period of militant atheism. At last, he acquired the freedom of spirit that enables one to communicate with God freely. The value of this freedom is disproportionate to any creature comforts. He came home after midnight and he couldn't fall asleep until morning replaying in his mind the speeches of the metropolitan and fathers superior that had excited him to the innermost of his heart. In the morning one could see a piece of paper with a new poem on the table.
After he re-read the lines written without a single correction Alexander couldn't even say for sure whether the poem had written by him or dictated from above…

***
Rudnev wasn't surprised by the call from the TV Company 'Belsat'. The day before several newspapers had published his interview and articles to do with the education reform that had already made a proverb. Throughout the period of state independence just about everyone got down to it. First they introduced lycee classes at school, and then they cancelled them. They argued for the ten-mark system of knowledge assessment only to require getting back to the five-mark system they were accustomed to later. Some considered knowledge of pupils and students could be estimated objectively only by means of a hundred-mark system. There was no unanimity as far as the length of education at secondary school was concerned. After they rejected ten-year secondary school together they started arguing whether they should introduce eleven-year or twelve year secondary school. Educational package was amended almost every year. Liberal arts suffered most. Every new minister considered his duty to conduct inspection of the literature studied. When doing this they were guided by their tastes and likings. It came to many outstanding writers being left out of the curriculum while their place was taken by 'neo-classics' raised to the level by the authorities. Ill-considered experiments of officials displeased pupils and their teachers and had an adverse effect on the standard of knowledge. However, itching for reforms incited the ministry to new adventures. Rudnev considered the reform carried out as an impasse. Rudnev called to stop it and return the best achievements of the Soviet school. He also suggested controversial issues to be submitted for consideration of the general public. Well-reasoned publications attracted attention of the presenter of the talk show 'Forum'. He invited Rudnev to participate in the discussion on ways of reforming higher school.
Alexander was well aware that the TV Company 'Belsat' is considered to be a hostile one by the Byelorussian authorities. The company was established with the support of the European Union and the USA and was funded by the government of Poland. Its aim was to ensure objective coverage of domestic political situation in Belarus. The company didn't obtain any official accreditation. Programs are broadcast from Warsaw via the satellite 'Sirius'. When David Rotman found out about the offer he said, 'Sasha, you shouldn't agree. It'll come to a bad end!'
-I'm not going to stick to any anti-Byelorussian position. On the contrary, I want to warn the state against ill-considered borrowing of foreign experience. By the way, the president is also concerned about the situation.
-This is fraught with serious consequences, anyway. Everyone who participates in 'Belsat' programs is kept tabs on. You've been kept under close surveillance for a long time.
-Well, I shouldn't be afraid, then.
The talk show was based on polemics between two teams. The team of the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute with Alexander Rudnev, Aliona Tsareva and the pro-rector of the institute was opposed to by the team of the European Humanitarian University headed by pro-rector Vladimir Dunayev. The team from Minsk defended the national system of higher education with amendments stated in Rudnev's publications while the team from Vilnius supported 'Bologna system' confirmed by all European Union states in 1999 as the single higher school pattern.
Figuratively speaking, IHEI representatives had to be a visiting team playing the role of outsiders. The label 'preserve of socialism' pinned on Belarus abroad was transferred automatically to its higher school. Awkward reforms merely increased the negative public opinion about the education system of Belarus. It was considered this education didn't meet international standards and that graduates of Byelorussian higher educational establishments had no future. 'Bologna system' with its emphasis on inducement of students to study disciplines on their own and on creative perception of the knowledge given by teachers was seen as an ideal. The EHU team was a host at the programs. The university had worked in Vilnius for three years and had business contacts with leadership of all European states. Its rector Anatoly Mikhailov is by right considered to be an outstanding philosopher of the present. When leaders of the European Union paid official and business visits to Lithuania they considered it their duty to meet students of the European Humanitarian University.
'You've been chosen to play the role pf a whipping boy,' his friend kept talking Rudnev out. 'I have no doubts Vladimir Dunayev will choose offensive tactics. Bear in mind that he is a great speaker.'
-I know Dunayev quite well. We used to be friends.
-Well, the audience is going to support the EHU. Emotional support is very important when you have polemics. The presenter of the program is a teacher of the EHU so he is sure to play up to his bosses. He is an expert at this. You are quite experienced but I'm afraid your assistants are going to lose their heads under stress.
Rudnev listened to Rotman very attentively and even agreed with him. It was clear, nevertheless, he had his own view of the forthcoming discussion. Still, he didn't show his cards even to his friend.
-Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
-Well, take care. I've warned you!
Everything Rudnev's friend cautioned him about came true. Vladimir Dunayev and his assistants appeared in the studio with an air of victors. The audience consisted solely of EHU students and lecturers who greeted their leadership enthusiastically. Alexander and his colleagues were met as if they were some provincials. The presenter was doing his best to display impartiality. There was no doubt, however, he had submitted to Dunayev all awkward questions for approval.
The unwritten rule ordering to give the guests the floor was broken. The hosts were the first to speak. A refined intellectual Vladimir Dunayev spoke very persuasively. It followed from his speech that the Byelorussian higher school had taken a back seat a long time ago and that it was highly unlikely to struggle out from there to follow the high road as long as the current regime existed. After describing vividly advantages of the 'Bologna system' he decided not to deal the final blow to his rival. He merely sympathized with his opponents who had to trade off 'old goods' to their students.
Rudnev noticed the faces of the pro-rector and Tsareva strained. The audience saw this, as well. Everyone expected to see a sort of corrida where the part of the bull doomed to death was assigned to the guests.
After Vladimir Dunayev finished his speech the presenter made a pause similar to those people make when they savor some good cognac and came up to their table.
-Now let's listen to the team of the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute. By the way, why is it called 'international'? Alexander Nikolayevich, are there any foreign investors among the founders of your institute?
-Unfortunately, there aren't any. We're not so lucky as our colleagues from the EHU that is financed by the whole of Europe. The IHEI is funded solely by students. Moreover, education fees at our institute are much lower than at the EHU and stet higher educational establishments. The title 'international' was assigned to the institute for what Vladimir Alexandrovich Dunayev called 'third-rate goods' - for knowledge we provide our students with. The title was assigned to us by the International Personnel Academy whose competence is undisputed here, I hope…
'Of course…,' the presenter agreed ineptly.
'We don' argue,' Rudnev continued, 'the 'Bologna system' to have a lot of advantages. Moreover, we make an active use of many of its components at our institute. We stake on creative ways of teaching. All teaching aids the students are supplied with at the IHEI have their electronic versions. This enables us to give classes by correspondence. The institute hosted a number of international conferences to do with pressing problems of foreign and domestic policy where leading scientists from different countries participated…'
The confidence Rudnev began his speech with was disliked by the opponents. They began whispering to each other.
-… So you see that even though we had taken a back seat we do our best not to leg behind progress despite the fact we're under the pressure of the Ministry for Education that regulates every step of our institute…
After the exchange of views it became clear the discussion wasn't going the direction the presenter planned. The man got nervous. He either sat on the edge of the improvised stage and thus slipped out of the field of vision of the TV cameras or walked over the stage making cameramen chase him. They gestured him to calm down and to take the place stipulated by the scenario but the presenter didn't notice their signals…
The EHU team was given the floor once again.
-We're glad our colleagues from Minsk are successful. They deserve every respect. However, it cannot be denied that under the authoritarian regime that is firmly established in Belarus they cannot make full use of their creative potential. They are in the Procrustean bed of numerous restrictions so they have to follow a strictly defined direction. Instead of independent interpretation of the world processes students have to repeat the official ideology of the Republic of Belarus parrot-fashion at their lectures. I got acquainted with the book, gentlemen. The notorious Stalin's 'History of the Communist Party' is the crown of the thought as compared to the work.
Vladimir Dunayev raised a course book in ideology over his head addressing the audience.
-As far as I'm concerned I don't read any books of the kind!
Rudnev's words made the audience burst out laughing. Some people started to applaud.
-Yes, I follow the advice once given by the famous professor not to read any Soviet newspapers before and after a meal.
-Are you going to deny the fact the course in stet ideology is included into the educational package?
-It is, indeed. However, why do you think that our students repeat ideological postulates from course books parrot-like? The skill of the teacher who has to work under tough control reveals itself in his ability to help the student look into the essence of some thesis without denying it openly. This is the example of the creative method that you appreciate so highly.
-Do you mean you train oppositionists at your institute?
-God forbid! Colleague, I don't advise you to, either, although the EHU is widely thought to be engaged in this.
The audience started to applaud again. People were evidently in favor of the team of the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute.
-I appreciate our youth deeply. I am sure young people are able to come to the point as far as the Time of Trouble they live in is concerned. Students should have their universities of life neither in the squares opposition parties push them to nor abroad where you invite them persistently. They should stay in their own country and see life as it is…
-We've been driven out of Belarus!
-They did so because the EHU took the path of direct confrontation with the authorities although even the European Union that funds your university is more inclined to the need to have dialogue rather that to put forward any ultimatums. You should read Lenin who wrote about the need to compromise. Some dictators are cleverer than democrats!
-Gentlemen, you are becoming personal. Stop it!
The presenter tried to interrupt Rudnev. The latter protested.
-Why do you deny me the right to finish my thought?
-Because I'm the presenter.
-If you are a presenter than I must be a Zhirinovsky!
Now the whole of the audience applauded to Alexander Rudnev who took the initiative from that moment onwards. The presenter did his best to turn back the discussion but speeches of members of the IHEI team sounded much more convincing than those of the EHU representatives. The talk show ended in complete triumph of Rudnev's team.
It goes without saying the show was recorded so when it was edited the director managed to smooth over the most critical moments. The program that was broadcast later didn't depict clear superiority of the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute over their rival. However, the organizers of the show didn't manage to present any show flogging they planned to.
When David Rotman watched the debate on TV he admitted, 'I must confess you were right, old fellow.'

***
Men and women treat their age in a different way. When women notice first grey hairs they get terrified and panic thinking their life is nearly over. Men, on the contrary, are glad when they go grey because they think this makes them more imposing and attractive in women's eyes. Men aren't scared by wrinkles on the bridge of their nose or by the weight they gain. Only those men who belong to the celebrities of show business rejuvenate themselves with the help of esthetic surgery. Most women of society who have enough means available consider esthetic surgery to be a must. Even numerous publications about the danger of competition with nature fail to keep them off the aspiration to look younger. The attitude to intimacy is just as contrary. The popular view that 'she's fresh and sporty on the wrong side of forty' isn't frequently confirmed in practice. Most women grow tired by the time. They find peace of mind to be much more important than joys of the body. This frequently results in family dramas. Even loving wives think they have completely fulfilled their function of a lover so they devote themselves solely to the duties of a host and a mother and thus make their husbands who go through the second peak of sexual activity feel extremely displeased. Unlike women men try to escape from their age in bed because potency for them is the best proof of their second youth. The indifference of the wife who does her matrimonial duty honestly but who doesn't display the former inventiveness pushes ordinary men to find a mistress. Those who are more refined and inspired find satisfaction in Platonic love.
Alexander Rudnev belonged to the second group. Although he was not indifferent to sex he never put it first in his life. He was one of those few men who acknowledge friendship between a man and a woman. This made their relations with Aliona Tsareva harmonious and sincere.
Many employees of his institute whose speculations about the sexual affair between Rudnev and Tsareva failed to be confirmed must be viewing him as a somewhat eccentric Don Quixote who was devoted to his ladylove. Those who knew Alexander better regarded his attitude to Aliona as the one of the loving father to his only daughter. These people were closer to the truth in their guesses. Outsiders who were not in their secret didn't even notice anything suspicious about the behavior of the director general and his charming deputy. The only thing that might betray him was the special warmth his eyes radiated when he looked at Aliona.
What did he see in her eyes?
…Alexander left his car at the familiar edge of the forest and was making his way along a shady lane. The October was nearly over but delayed Indian summer had won some lovely days over from autumn. The sun was shining brightly. Confused spiders were spinning their webs recklessly. If it hadn't been for the leaves of the trees that had got thin and the thick carpet of crimson and yellow leaves under his feet one might have thought it was August…
Rudnev knew the phone in his office was ringing incessantly and that his daughter was worried to hear the endless 'The subscriber's phone is switched off or out of the coverage'. He was aware his employees and friends were running off their legs to find him and that Aliona who was signing her name under the received greeting messages was lost in guesses where he had gone. Let them be worried. He wants to be on his own. It's a special day today, both cheerful and disturbing. He is sixty!..
Some invisible projector is reviving memories of his life. He's a bare-footed boy who's escaping from his mother to the river Naut… He's hiding in the bushed near Bondar's house waiting to see for the mean creature to be punished for the death of his grandfather… He's walking to school knee-deep in snow… He's marching on the drill ground dripping with sweat… He's pulling sacks with cement too heavy to lift… He's holding his daughter in his hands shaking with excitement on the porch of the maternity hospital… He's crying bitterly leaning over dying Fred…
The memories make him cry.
… Defense of the thesis… Hospital… The institute… His mother's funeral… The first recital… Grandson… Aliona…
The invisible film is over. Some bird singing over his head makes him come to himself…
He is sixty…
'Now you are a pensioner, old fellow!' his inner self made a venomous remark. 'Life is almost over. You must be frightened.'
-Not in the least. Who gave you the right to give me up? I'm still alive. I'm not older than my students at heart.
-You're still swaggering, aren't you? It has always been like you. Others resigned themselves, drifted and lived by no means bad, I should say, while you constantly got involved in numerous political adventures. What have you gained, I wonder? What you may expect in the future is a knoll on your grave that will be overgrown with weeds in due course. The epitaph on your gravestone will become obliterated by age and people will forget who Alexander Rudnev was.
-They won't! I'm not sure if I go to Heaven but my name won't disappear under the cover of time. It will continue in my grandson and will be kept in the memory of my close people, in my poems and songs. That is why I'm not afraid of death.
-You are. I see you're clinging to life. You have a young girlfriend you devote your poems to. If it were your decision you would have sold your soul to the Devil to bring back youth!
Rudnev was so furious with the sacrilege of his double that he automatically looked around as if he was trying to find him to give a slap in the face. There was no one around. Only birds filled the forest with their charming songs glorifying life. It seemed to Alexander for a moment these were angels who congratulated him on entering the new stage of his life. Once again he heard music inside. He found a comfortable stub, produced a notebook out of his pocket and started writing.


INSTEAD OF AN EPILOGUE

In conclusion we'd like to draw attention of the readers to another peculiar feature typical of Alexander Rudnev's generation. These people became a kind of a buffer between the generation of the Soviet people and the generation of those who were born and whose personality was made up in independent Belarus that hasn't decided on its political and moral preferences so far. Their saying goodbye to the past is an agonizing process. They cannot fully accept the ideals alien to them in many respects. The process of their spiritual acclimatization in the post-Soviet period could go less painfully if it didn't affect their family relations. Alexander Rudnev and people of the same age repeated the fate of their great grandfathers who were born in pre-revolutionary Russia and who couldn't understand and accept the ideals of their children who were Komsomol members in 1920s. His daughter Inessa, his son-in-law Dmitry and his grandson Alexander have an entirely different view of life. The thought that their spiritual paths will separate one day and they will live in different epochs afterwards can't but frighten Alexander Rudnev. He doesn't have any opportunity to prevent this so he displays this in his verses.
This is not merely lyrical poetry caused by a surge of emotions. In fact this is an entreaty and an appeal to his descendants…
However contradictory Alexander Rudnev may seem he is an integrated personality who has a code of the community of people bearing the proud name 'Byelorussians' imprinted in him.





 

Russian version >>>

   
   
 

Homepage | Biography | Principal dates | Awards | Social and political essays
Poetry | Published songs | Music recordings

© Alexander Nikolayevich Alpeyev
© Design by Dmitri Avramets, 2011