Escape from the Soviets - T. Tchernavin

The End of Family Life

A catastrophe always comes suddenly, however long one may have been expecting it. We had endured a month of agony at nights, listening to every sound, and it happened almost in the daytime, as we came home from our work. It is easy not to find people at home at that hour, but an obliging Communist colleague rang up my husband upon the telephone.

"Are you at home? How are you?"

"Do you want anything of me?"

"No, nothing. I just wanted to ask if you were going away." A quarter of an hour later the OGPU agents came with an order for my husband's arrest.

I was kept late at the office and when I came home all was over. Hardly anything had been touched: the search had been quite perfunctory, because the OGPU did not really care to find out the true state of things. A young man in civilian clothes lolled in an armchair, smoking a cigarette.

That was all. But our home was gone. Life seemed to have gone out of everything around us. We moved about: my husband changed his clothes, packed his suit-case. I helped him in silence, but we did it quite mechanically. It all seemed unreal.

When all the formalities and preparations were over we sat down to tea, but we did not drink it. One could not swallow a single mouthful.

We had to wait for the OGPU car: with the great number of arrests, there were not enough cars to go round. We sat in silence, looking at each other for the last time. How many men had left home like this and never come back!

An hour passed. The OGPU young man made himself quite at home: he rang up his friends on our telephone, examined books and pictures, walked about the room, carelessly opened and shut the drawers—he was master here. We sat stiffly without moving and looked at each other in silence. One could not speak in front of an OGPU agent. And indeed, what could one say during those last moments?

What happiness it is, I thought, to be still able to look at him, to see his tired face, pale and set. I knew that he was afraid of making the least movement for fear of losing his self-control, and I felt just the same. I gazed at him fixedly trying to imprint every feature in my memory for ever: his head was slightly bent with an expression of utter weariness, his hair had begun to turn grey, the corners of his mouth were twitching slightly, his eyes . . . but one can't look into a man's eyes at such moments.

"How much longer will you be? Hurry up!" the OGPU young man said over the telephone.

We started. The boy had not come home yet. Will the father have to go away without saying good-bye? What a good thing I had sent the little girl to her mother! But there evidently was still time. We sat looking at each other as before. He, too, was probably trying to fix my face in his memory. I had grown an old woman during those days. For two hours we were sitting thus, saying good-bye as before death. Every minute that passed, one's heart grew heavier with the impending sense of loss. And our son was not at home. Poor child, what awaited him!

At last there was a ring.

"It's our son," I said. "May I open the door?"

The OGPU agent nodded.

I let in the boy, and before I had had time to say anything he rushed forward in alarm and stood stock-still seeing a stranger by his father's side. He sat down, poor child, and looked at us silently, not understanding what it all meant, what we were waiting for and why we looked at each other so strangely. He was trembling all over, not daring to ask anything.

The OGPU car hooted outside.

"Come along."

We all stood up. This was the end.

For the last time we saw him come up to us to say good-bye, doing his utmost to control his emotion. We could not utter a single word. He held out his hand to me and the boy, looked at us for the last time, and walked out of the room. We let him go his sorrowful way and looked after him in silence.