A Lump of Sugar. Joanna's Page 10
A Lump of Sugar. Joanna's Page 10
The two (a poor mark) in my exercise book, a fat and red one, reared up like a rabid worm, and I, trembling with disgust, copied its doubles in lines. Dozens of lilac worms with tied tails. When I tied their tails, sticky and fat blots spattered from under my pen to my exercise book, to my fingers, to my dress; disgusting trails of crushed worms were everywhere.
I threw off my pen. Lilac tears dropped on my exercise book.
"You are a fool," Lyuska twisted her mouth with irritation, "have you seen that?"
Lyuska's twos were thin and neat. They proudly swam along lines one after another, arching their graceful violet necks, and, of course, it was a magic as well as everything associated with Luska.
This magic was only a new hard-to-get pen that was taken away from me by Lyuska who in return palmed off her own with a tip resembling a wide open beak of a gluttonous nestling.
"Listen," Lyuska's eyes glittered, her hot whisper burned like steam from the kettle, "do you know the ruins near the railway station?"
"Is it where a bomb fell?"
"Right! Captive Germans work as builders there. They are real ones."
"You are lying!"
Lyuska swore that she had told a truth. Germans were horrible humanlike creatures with jaws stained with blood, fangs and knives in their belts; they were created to plunder, burn and kill. They were mystical bearers of evil like they were painted in books, placards and caricatures. Oh, real Germans!
"Let's run and see."
"You are a fool. We have won them; why are you afraid? They are captives!"
"Are they tied?"
"They won't do any harm to us; her guns were taken away."
"What eyes Lyuska has!"
We stole along a continuous plank fence, trembling with fear and hearing abrupt sounds of foreign language. There must be a hole here! In our short life we learnt a principle: there are no fences without holes.
And when we find one, a sentry appeared from around the corner. This was our sentry in a field cap and with a gun. He was looking at a woman in a short skirt. Feeling his look, she passed by him, swinging her hips. In her hand she carried a bag with carrot.
"Would you give me a carrot?"
"No, I wouldn't", she said but stropped and began to laugh, and a sentry also laughed, stretching out his hand to the bag.
"Get into it," Lyuska commanded."
"Why should I go first?"
"You are a fool, I will keep watch," whispered Luska and pushed me to the hole. Then she shut the hole with a plank.
I pulled the plunk but no results. Lyuska have leaned all her weight to it from that side of the fence.
"Hush, the sentry is coming."
My first wish was to fall on the ground and lie so in the autumnal sparse bushes at the fence until Lyuska let me out or to cry in a load voice to this sentry with a gun. Though he had a gun he was our man but as for these Germans...
I squatted, convulsively squeezing my briefcase by one hand and closing my eyes by other hand. "I'm a coward, an ostrich."
The ground smelt mushrooms.
They were talking to each other somewhere near. However, my curiosity overpowered my cowardice. I looked first by one eye then by other.
Dear me! There near a ruined building ordinary people moved. They didn't look like Germans in films who screeched hysterically, had distorted faces and moved disorderly like marionettes. These ones moved quietly and at the same time quickly. Some of them mixed something in a huge tub, others carried buckets and stretchers and the third rapped cement from old bricks, and all of that they did efficiently and even merrily, obeying their senior who had a black bandage on his eye.
"Are they Germans? They aren't Germans at all. Lyuska have told lies. They are ordinary people. Other nations also don't speak our language, for example, Ukrainians, Georgians and Gipsies. "
The one with a black bandage looking at his wrist watch shouted something, and they sat around the bonfire, on which a pot was smoking. Immediately everyone got a bowl and a spoon, and spoons began to knock bowls. The builders made conversation and laughed.
And our sentry with his bowl and spoon also put aside his gun and sat on the grass near these people. And they didn't grab the gun to kill him. He said something to them, and they began to laugh all together, and our sentry also laughed, chewing his carrot he got from a woman.
"What is there?"
Lyuska's face with her predatory and curious eyes tried to get into the hole. And I revenged myself. Hissing at Luska, I shut the plank and myself leaned all my weight on it.
"No, of course, they aren't Germans. It's a pity. I must devise what to tell Lyuska. "
Suddenly I saw a man going to the fence and bushes, right towards me. He was one of those people. He was lanky and bony, wearing boots with too wide tops.
I froze with fear and at that moment understood that he didn't see me, that he went to the fence to do the deed.
There was nothing else left for me to do but screw up my eyes; I was a well-brought-up ostrich. I had to patiently wait, and evil autumnal flies crawled on my bare legs. I keep patience. At last, I could hear his retreating steps. But suddenly damned Lyuska pulled the plank from that side, the plank creaked, a dry branch broke with crackle somewhere near, and...
Who was frightened more? His face and neck became red, And I could understand that he was red-haired, though his hair was not red but his freckles were so. Then he smiled not like a German.
I also smiled in return.
He asked, "What are you doing here?"
I could guess what he had asked about, though couldn't understand any word. But anybody other would ask the same thing. And I answered, "I'm here for no special reason."
He also asked, motioned to my briefcase, "Are you going from school?"
And again I understood him: what was not understandable here?"
Then he sat next to me, stretching out his feet in worn boots, and then remembering something, suddenly asked whether he might sit down.
I permitted him. He got a tobacco pouch and asked me to allow him to smoke.
It was amazing that I could understand everything, not understanding a word. Then he knocked his breast and said that his name was Kurt. And I said that my name was Yana.
He livened up and began to explain something to me but I couldn't understand. Then He asked for my briefcase and drew a girl on a horse on a blotter, he could paint wonderfully. And he wrote, 'Jana'
He wrote not our way, and I asked, "Are you a real German?"
"Yes," he answered in Russian, "I'm a German."
Maybe, something changed in my face because he hurriedly got into a pocket of his faded soldier's blouse and drew out a photo of a woman with very beautiful white shoulder-length locks. A woman sat in a wicker chair under a tree with, and a freckled girl stood beside her. Of course, she was a daughter of this Kurt and a woman with beautiful locks. She was an ordinary girl who looked like one of my schoolmate girls.
I was going to tell a German about it but while I thought how to say that in German he stretched me a tin box. In the box a lump of sugar whitened. Hesitating for a while, I took it and said 'thank you'. If this lump would be crack, it would be enough for five glasses of tea. What a good German!
He shoved the tobacco pouch, the tin and the photo into his pockets; his hands and voice trembled when he said that his daughter was such a girl like myself, and his lips also trembled, but suddenly the one with a black bandage shouted something and my German at once jumped up, stretched, and then, again sitting down (I could hear his knees crackling), convulsively clasped my head to his breast. I could smell his sweat, tobacco and something else half-forgotten and having to do with our prewar world, to father's box with shaving brushes and blades where I wasn't allowed to poke about.
The German's face looked like a grey autumnal sky. His lips and freckles on pale cheekbones trembled, and his wet eyes, strained and unwinking, sank like boats.
The German in his too big boots ran to the one with a black bandage.
Behind the fence a sentry whistled and shouted at Lyuska. I could hear her running away.
In half an hour many years ago, not founding escaping Lyuska I rushed home to report my tremendous discovery.
"Germans are also people. They can love and even cry, they also have children and miss them."
I trod on air squeezing a great proof, a lump of sugar, in my fist. Evil turned out to be good. And this good would be presented to the world by me, Yana Sinegina.
The brown door with rhombuses, a groan of shaken stairway, the door of my flat, the scared mom's face, and I blurted out about the German to her and could see that every second we understood each other less and less, and I didn't know why, because everything was so good and clear. At last, I opened my fist with 'a great poof'. Mom looked in some numbness at the fairy crystal that shone with whiteness in the half-darkness of the corridor; her face suddenly distorted and her palm broke 'the proof' like a guillotine. Then heels of her shoes furiously and fervently trampled it, turning it into dirty medley.
In the evening when my desperate cry came down I reconciled with mom and we began to study my lessons, and again, drawing additional tails for my twos (bad marks) I painfully considered how to combine mom's hateful words 'They killed your father! And what they did to you grandpa and grandma there in an occupied territory!' with that girl looking like one of my schoolmates, with the German's trembling voice and lips, with freckles on his pale cheekbones and sinking eyes-boats.
Both things were true; I could feel this by my faultless childish intuition. How to combine these incompatible rightnesses?
A deadly and bewildered offence at this incompatibility broke harmony of my world of those days where evil was evil and good was good, and when evil turned out to be good it was in truth and forever, so that everybody could be happy and shouldn't trample this good by their heels.
The recollection about mom's destroying heels tormented me for a long time until I was healed by a strangely miraculous dream, about which I would never tell my mom and Lyuska but I would always remember it. In this childish dream of mine everything miraculously interweaved. There I was sitting on father's knees on that sunny prewar bank of the river Klyazma where father took mom and me by his motorcycle with sidecar. But I was not only myself but also a freckled girl who looked like my schoolmate, and my mom had shoulder-length locks because she became that blonde from the photo, and my father who embraced me was simultaneously Kurt, this German of mine, and in my hand I had a ball, and our prewar day became their day when the moment stopped.
The tree, the wicker chair, the bank of Klyazma were both these and those ones as well as the sky and the clouds. And we were all happy that everything was solved so simply and wonderfully and that it would always be so, and the June of 1941 would never come.
And the kite launched by father put a white seal on the stopped time.