Escape from the Soviets - T. Tchernavin


The streets were hot and dusty. The windows of the Co-operative shops were completely bare. They were selling stale greens off the barrels. Passers-by looked tired and dull. In the tram passengers were quarrelling and abusing one another.

At home I found just what I had expected: strangers, disorder, most of the furniture sold. There was no home left but all was made up to me by one cry that restored me to life:

"Mother!" It was a cry of ecstasy, tears, surprise, love, sorrow all that was filling his childish heart.

"Mother, mother, mother!" he kept saying softly, loudly, caressingly, pitifully, in every tone of voice, finding no other words.

"Darling, why are you so pale and thin? Have you been ill?" I asked, examining him and feeling him all over. How wonderful it was that I could once more touch and stroke my poor abandoned boy.

"No, only once, a little. I had German measles, but I took your parcel to you just the same so that you wouldn't be worried. The doctor said I might. I had hardly any temperature, and when I came home I got into bed again."

"Did you always take the parcels yourself both to me and to daddy?"

"Yes, I had to, there was no one else to do it."

"How did you manage about school?"

"I missed two days a week and made up for it at home as best I could. You see, I had to go to two different prisons—you were at Shpalerka and daddy at Kresty. But it's ever so much nicer at Kresty. There are two windows there, one for parcels for ordinary prisoners there are a lot of them there, and they can have all sorts of things—and another for the OGPU prisoners, and there they are awfully strict. But they are not so bad as at Shpalerka. They shout and swear at one, of course, but they don't drive one away so often. Mother, I am so glad I need not go to the prison anymore! Mother, I shall never walk down that street again! You can't think how heavy those bags are, and I got so tired of standing in the queue! Mother, I am so glad you are back!"

He hugged me, kissed my hands, stroked me, rubbed his thin little face against me, and did not know how to express his joy.

"Where did you have your meals? You look so thin."

"I had lunch at school, and in the evening I fed with our lodgers here. But they have very little money. There was jolly little to eat."

"And where is my piano?"

"Sold. I was so sorry—now you won't be able to play in the evenings. I asked them very much not to sell it, but they said there wasn't any money to feed you. Parcels cost a lot, you know."

The boy grew quite sad.

"Never mind, dearest. I shall have to work so hard now that there won't be time for music, anyway," I said to comfort him, though I was very much grieved. All the time I was in prison I dreamed that perhaps I would be able to sit down to the piano again someday. But there was nothing for it! The OGPU might easily have confiscated all our property, and then we should have had nothing left us at all.

The boy's face remained sad and serious.

"I saw daddy."

I could not speak; my voice failed me.

"When?" I brought out at last.

"In April. He was being sent to Kem."

"What did he look like?"

"Very pale, and ill."

"What did he say?"

"He said I was to go with you when you are sent into exile."

There was a long silence. He was evidently making up his mind to speak. At last he asked:

"Shall we go to see daddy?"

"Yes. Soon."

Now I knew what I had to do in life. There were only two creatures that I held dear in the whole world. We had to be together—at all costs.