A Siberian “Velikorusse” *and
the Gun Souvenir from Afghanistan
Vsegdapianii (“Alwaysdrunk”) was the proud owner of one bedroom apartment in Kurgan, in Siberia, a town not far from the Ural Mountains. Several times a day, he loved pacing thoughtfully in the sitting room – with thrown out chest, hands behind his back – and saying to himself: “This is my territory!” (“Eto moya territorya!”) He had bought this apartment following the liberal measures taken during “perestroika” of Gorbachev. He had paid six thousand rubles in cash – when the ruble was a dollar and a half – a huge sum in comparison with the salary of a secondary school teacher with average seniority, salary which amounted to approximately one hundred fifty rubles a month! He enjoyed his accomplishment while admiring the apartment triumphantly, as a leader of troops on the battlefield, after a great victory, as did formerly Suvorov. Vsegdapianii had a great admiration for Suvorov, due perhaps to the fact that he identifed in may respects with this great commander: little stature, blond, blue eyes, keen glance and agile. The difference was that he had a weakness for drinking and the left arm completely paralyzed.
Vsegdapianii, whose full name Vsegdapianii, Vodoboyaznovich (“Hydrophobovich”) Solioniiogurets (“Pickledgherkin”), was born in Kurgan in 1968, when Brezhnev, the absolute ruler of the Soviet Union, ordered the tanks to suppress the «Prague Spring», an exceptional opportunity for communism to acquire a human facade. Vsegdapianii’s mother was a laundress and his father a truck driver. His grandfather had fought as a soldier under the command of the famous Chapaev, major in the Red Army during the Civil War with which confronted the Soviet Russia, war about which he was accustomed to tell in every detail to his grandchildren. He loved with all his heart to tell jokes about Chapaev. So, whenever drunkeness and discussions were mingled, he stuffed his stories with «Chapaev» jokes:
– Well, you know who was Chapaev? You know nothing at all. You are a pathetic beings («jalkie vidi»). He gave his life for Mother Russia («Mati Rossia») so it could be extended from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Remeber, poor whores («bliadi») that you are, that the desire of the enemies to reduce the area of the USSR to the dimensions of the Red Square in Moscow will never be fulfilled! Where was I?
– At Chapaev, our beloved (“nash milii”).
– Vasilii had a young officer for his personal services, called Palka. He also had a cook, Anka. She was the mistress (“libovnitsa”) of both men. Ha, that is funny, isn’t it? One night very late, Palka entered to the bedroom of Anka and tenderly invited her to a walk in the moonlight. Ha, what do you say? Anka apologized kindly, saying she did not dress appropriately for such a walk. So, Palka, furious, opened one after another the doors of the wardrobes in the room and, pointing to the clothes arranged on the hangers, said: «And this one, it does not suit you? Or this one, it is not good ? Good evening, Vassilii Ivanovich! And this one, it is not good?» And now let’s get serious. Cheers! (“Na schastie!”)
– Bottom’s up (“Do dna!”), do not forget the slogan: “We do not eat anything after the first drink!” (“Posle pervovo stakana ne zakussivayut!”) – someone said among the guests to incite them.
– That we know! I’ll tell you another joke: «There is no unpleasant woman, but there is some vodka». What do you say about that? Are we, Russians, misogynists?
– Vsegdapianii Vodoboyaznovich, you have our respect, you know how to ask the right questions. But, instead of answering you, I’ll tell you what’s our saying: “During youth: vodka, a boat and a young woman; during old age: kefir, meringue and a latrine well heated” (“V iunosti: vodka, lodka i molodka; v starosti: kefir, zefir i tioplenkii sortir”).
– I’ll tell you another joke about Chapaev. One evening, Vasilii wanted to go in the room of Anka, but, being tormented by all the bullets, that had passed right by his ears that day, he lost most of his virility and was afraid of compromising himself again facing the young woman. Furious because he was not fully aroused, he then began to give orders to his own “thing”…
– You told us already that joke, we know what he was shouting: “Get up, stand up!” (“Ravnaisi, smirna!”)
– Ha, how much I love jokes about Chapaev! As I said, in the room next to Anka’s, Palka, who heard through the walls the cries of his superior, stood up where he was in the bed, whenever the command «Ravnaisi, smirna!» was pronounced. Ha, how much I love jokes about Chapaev!
– One more joke, what do you say?
– It was a test of the mind of those men after drinking hundreds of mililiters of vodka. With regard to the American, a car appeared on the screen of the unit that carried out the test, for the French –a woman, and for the Russian’s turn, nothing at all. The Russian had to drink another shot of one hundred mililiters of vodka and so on until he swallowed up an entire liter. And there on the screen finally appeared a little black dot. Scholars have expanded the dot just enough to understand what it was: a pickled gherkin… then became visible on the screen.
– Damn, are you reffering to me?
– No, old man, that is what is saying in the joke.
Frequently they came across a «paradoxical» problem that they could not solve:
– I do not understand, said Vsegdapianii for inciting the discussion, how is it possible that the Nederlands’, whose the territory extends only on a time zone, have guilders worth more than rubles, than what we have in our great country, where, when the sun sets in Vladivostok, in Murmansk is just rising?
-Yes indeed it is normal that the dollar is smaller than the ruble, because the Yankees’ territory is smaller than ours. But, why this rule is not applied in the case of the guilder? If our country is the world’s largest, the ruble should be the strongest currency!
Vsegdapianii was, somehow, the team leader (“desiatnik”) of drunkards, especially, since he often has paid all in carouses. His friends were accustomed assembling at his house Friday night and the drinking continued until Sunday night. Their reserve was about ten bottles of vodka for a group of five or six people. Regarding the food, they had smoked herring caught in the Bering Sea. When the carouse was in full swing, they shouted satirical cries (“chastushky”), so to speak. One of their favorite was saying: “I married a woman. / She loved me, / she cheated on me only once, / but then decided: / ah, once, once again, / still many, many times. / Is better forty times for once / than nothing for forty times” (“U menea bila jena. / Ona menea liubila, / izmenilasi toliko raz / i potom reshila: / ah, raz, eshcho raz / mnogo, mnogo raz. / Lushche sorok raz po-razu, / chem ne razu v sorok raz.”
Around midnight there was obviously nothing to drink. The empty bottles were arranged as bowling pins under the kitchen table. Then they began to manufacture the so-called «vodka Mendeleev», according to a recipe well known in Russia, mixing water (two parts) and 96 percent ethyl alcohol (one part). This gives you an alcoholic beverage of 96 proof. When this source was exhausted as well, they went for a walk in the neighborhood looking for manufacturers of «samagon», a home made beverage obtained by the distillation of fodder beet. The smell was so fetid, that it made really easy to find it at the right locations. Ultimately, to quench their thirst until morning when the stores finally opened, they swallowed a drink made from shoe wax with alcohol. They smeared slices of bread with this shoe wax. After the bread absorbed the alcohol, they removed the wax with a knife. Then they sucked the bread. It was simple… and, especially, ingenious to satisfy their appetite.
Before falling into a deep, blessed Bacchus sleep, blessed sleep, Vsegdapianii repeated sadly, but with all his heart: «Sach, Sacha!», the diminutif of the name Alexander, his son’s Alexander nickname, who lived far away in his mother’s custody. Vsegdapianii’s addiction to alcohol was the cause of this separation. This weakness was accelerated from 1988, when he was sent to Afghanista, a country invaded by the Soviets under the orders of Brezhnev in December 1978. He had crossed much of the steep mountains of the Hindu Kush as a gunner of a tank. If a human appeared on the horizon, he shot it in the name of maintaining the power of the communist clique of Babrak Kamal. Killing became a profession like any other. He killed from his tank the Mujahideen, Taliban militants, innocent civilians, the bullet did not know the difference. Vsegdapianii drowned his sorrow in vodka and, from that to addiction, was only one small step.
Krassavitsa (“Beautiful”), his wife, missed him often, especially at night. Each week he made every effort to send her a letter. He had met her in 1985, in autumn, at night school. Both of them were studying to become electricians. They weren’t really in love. It was more of a carnal attraction. On the morning of the first Sunday after their meeting, Vsegdapianii invited Krassavitsa to the cinema. They saw Moscow does not believe in Tears (“Moskva Slezam ne verit”). When Rudolf and Katerina had sex in the film, Vsegdapianii and Krassavitsa began to fiddle with each other… She whispered in his ear:
– The characters make love like in the days of Lenin.
– In the rigid proletarian manner, without fantasy. Now we live perestroika, the change în every thing.
– But what does perestroika mean when it comes to sex?
– Let me show you, she said, while leaning her head on his knees, under the cover of obscurity.
– I understand much better now… perestroika… Gorbachev… acknowledged, while panting, Vsegdapianii, after a certain period of time. Yes, this, is the communism with a human face!
They left the cinema holding hands. They crossed the Siberian city, capital of the Kurgan region, south of the oil basin of the Tiumeni region, the second in size after the Caspian Sea. The city of Kurgan has grown during the disaster, following the precipitate removal of the military factories beyond the Ural Mountains, removal determined by the defeat of the Red Army in the early part of World War II. Public housing built at that time resembled brick dormitories of a garrison. Walking through some neighborhoods in Kurgan somehow it makes you feel the atmosphere of Soviet years between 1940 and 1953. The name of the main avenue in the city was Lenin even during the time of Gorbachev.
The couple waited a few seconds, eyes riveted to the official stand, which was never dismantled, a stand in front of which were held annually parades on November 7 and May 1. The only thing missing was the bus restaurant. Parked behind the stand, it was at the disposal of dignitaries for hot tea, perogies, and even had toilets.
They entered the central park, where, in the rhythm of a military band playing in a pavilion, a few old ladies and veterans of war, their chests covered with medals, danced proudly and ostentantiously, two by two, while men, veterans, too, being outnumbered, chose to remain on a bench and watch them. Next they crossed the bridge over the river Tobol, near the universal store TUM, «Tsentralinii Universalinii Magazin», an old name for a new and modern building. There were many fishermen with lines in the lake formed by the dam below the bridge. A few steps more and they were already in the endless Siberian forest of birches. The nearest urban oasis was represented by the city of Omsk, which was seven hundred kilometers in the distance. A forest road, partially covered by fallen leaves, was their guide. They walked a few minutes before rushing behind the first birch tree on their path. And they united in the same thick layer of leaves, without to worry about passersbys, who could see them. In truth, they heard not very far groans calling to work… No one could have bothered them, not even a glance. There is in Siberia a feminine variety appropriate to satisfy almost instantaneously the masculine sexual impulses. The Siberian taiga is a «nest of madness» that knows no limits.
The two lovers separated from one another and during a few minutes they preferred to lie on their back and rest. Under the weight of their bodies they felt the warm and soft leaves. That year, the autumn was long and, in the afternoon, it was thirty degrees and more. A peak was looking for insects under the «Dalmatian» bark of a birch. Yellow leaves filtered the sunlight. The surroundings were suitable for vows of eternal love. But sometimes the time destroys everything…
Vsegdapianii remained in Afghanistan until February 15, 1989, when Soviet troops finally retreated. He returned home with a Makarov pistol, he had hidden in his shirt. Vsegdapianii kept it as a war souvenir. It was not difficult to obtain weapons from dead comrades. In the accounts of the army all theese weapons passed for loss of war. Who could really keep count?
Since his demobilization, Vsegdapianii received as compensation one hundred rubles, money he spent on drink. Krassavitsa did not tolerate his new habits. And quarrels began… Desperate, she left with Sasha to her parents. Vsegdapianii tried repeatedly to persuade her to return home, but to no avail. In a weak moment and in an advanced estate of drunkeness, the Siberian man had threatened suicide if she did not return home. «Sach! Sacha!» shouted he over the phone for the last time, before pointing his pistol-souvenir to his heart. He closed his eyes and fired. Boom!
He awoke in a hospital room. Drunk as he was, he did not reach the heart, but one of his arms. The bone was broken and the nerve so damaged it was impossible to suture it. Additionally, he contracted osteomyelitis. He was transfered to the Kurgan Scientific Center «Restorative Traumatology and Orthopaedics». They removed all the infected bone. Then, using a device invented by the doctor Ilizarov, the two remaining ends were reassembled and pressed close together for three months in order to connect. Six months later, the cured bone was cut and, thanks to a similar device, both ends were pushed aside by one millimeter per day, until the arm reached its original length. Three months later, enough time for ossification, Vsegdapianii left the hospital.
It was summer 1990. What to do with a disabled left arm? He was inspired to rent a room under the stairs of the House of Culture from Kurgan, in which he laid out a workshop to repair color TV sets – a novelty at that time in Siberia. He asked forty rubles to repair a unit, a sum with which he could have purchased one hundred and sixty loaves of bread. And he had plenty of customers. In a year he was able to purchase a one bedroom apartment. He was very lucky, since the ruble, which was the symbol of stability of Communism, was quickly devaluated thereafter. He became an once a week drunk, the desire to make money overcame partially his costly addiction.
Time passed without major changes in Vsegdapianii’s life. The hope that he will get a job of a leader has died slowly and surely. The Leninist thesis – «the children of washerwomen will govern the country» – was no longer valid. He saw Gorbachev as a traitor («izmenik»). On Monday, August 19, 1991, while President Gorbachev spent his holidays in the Crimeea, in his «dacha», Vsegdapianii heard a statement made by TASS news agency: «Mikhail Gorbachev is no longer able to fulfill his duties because of health reasons and had been replaced by Gennady Yanayev.» Events rushed: the head of the KGB, Vladimir Krutchikov, and the defence minister, Dimitri Yazov, declared a state of emergency for a period of six months, while announcing the restoration of censorship and directing withdrawal of tanks in Moscow. Boris Yeltsin, who was then in the Parliament building, came out and asked people to civil disobedience. The tanks crushed three young people who were throwing Molotov cocktails. The next day, thousands of people defied the tanks. At night, the tanks finally withdrew. Wednesday, Gorbachev returned to Moscow and Thursday, members of the coup were arrested.
Vsegdapianii was increasingly confused. On the one hand, he dreamed of liberal changes and, on other hand, he felt the disappearance of the USSR was imminent, so it disliked him. But he could not escape what he feared most. On December 8, 1991, it was organized a «hunt» in the residence «Viskuli» of the President Stanislav Shushkevich, which was in the natural reservation Belovezhskaya Pushcha, near Brest. The guests were the presidents Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk. Three of four republics that had founded the USSR, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine (the forth being the Transcaucasia) signed a treaty for the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was formally a dagger planted in the heart of the state union envisioned by Lenin. Gorbachev also called «Mikhail free of country» («Mikhail bez strani»), accused Yeltsin of having accelerated the dissolution of URSS, because of his excessive desire for power, and Yeltsine blamed the coup of August, 1991.
Following these events, Vsegdapianii was hurt to his very soul «velikorusse». He was at least satisfied that his new country, Federation of Russia, had reduced the number of Muslims by non-inclusion of the former republics of Azerbaijin, Kazahstan, Kirkizia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, opinion based on his experience gained during the years in Afghanistan. But his greatest consolation was the fact that he had become the owner of a one bedroom apartment, reason for which every night, when he was not drunk, he pace the room in zigzag, repeating in a high tone, sometimes threatening: “This is my territory!”
*Velikorusse: a partisan of the Great Russia (“Velikaya Rossia”).
The translation and the adaptation are realized by the author.