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Andreev Pavel
The Dust

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   Art of War. Pavel Andreev. The Dust
   The sun was burning on crowns of our heads. Running about elusive enemy all over vineyards mercilessly wore us out. Boys with Kalashnikov guns in group of 6 - 8 soldiers, executing the orders-spotter of leading group, ran about, trying to keep the distance between each others and time schedule of the appearance in check points. Based on understandable reasons those strategists, who had drawn arrows on maps, were not aside and they couldn’t share our enthusiasm, generated by next command.
   A captive squatted in a shadow of a fence. Our tank, exploded by that feeble skinny man, was located at the close distance. The man was caught immediately after the blow, he was hiding in the vineyard, the wires from a very powerful landmine, installed in a body of a small narrow bridge over an irrigation ditch, were leading to. If it hadn’t been the war and it hadn’t been so serious one would have thought that man wanted to pull through terrible torments the crank, but still able to carry the huge pressure of heavy steel bulk of tank, body of the small bridge over the irrigation ditch.
   Nimble tankmen were scurrying around the tank. BTRs tried to help to get the tank out of trap. The stream in the irrigation ditch was slowly moving muddy-yellow water, hiding the power of its current. The air was filled with orders and pieces of phrases, reports and instructions. The battalion tried not to ravel out on the "green area"; to keep the order in appeared chaos of movements of separate groups. The usual condition while combing when somebody stuck in trouble. Usual "run-lie".
   Our group, consisted of eight people, dashed out to the bridge in the very moment of everything was just being considered. Covered with dust, wearing summer uniform, fully penetrated with sweat, carrying breasts with ammunitions, machine-gun belts, across our bodies, and "Flies", trained by our demobbing Dagestan Alibek, who worked as both a mine dog and a scout at the same time, we, apparently, was a colourful picture of "Afghan-warriors".
   Our appearance was obviously noticed by the hurrying soldiers of an "armoured group".
   Having kept the frames of unwritten laws we didn’t show the run to a watering place in the period of drought but decorously demonstrated the way of right use of such minutes of rest. We quickly lined up, counted all the people, without any noise ran to a shadow of before noticed duval, keeping the distance of direct call, respecting voice chords of our commander. Then lied down immediately then, based on earlier confirmed order defined the way of going for the water to the ditch. In order to keep busy image of our group our young soldiers remained lined up, showing with their three bodies the group of six, while sergeants, I and Misha went to a battalion commander, who was in the midst of other officers, with the report.
   The battalion commander, having heard the detailed and indifferent report of a chief of the group, turned his back to both of us and said to Misha in a very calm and usual tone: "Son, just comb the right wing up to a dryer, which is 300 metres away of here, then you’ll have to stay there and wait for next order. That will be your resting place. Your company is to be move further. You’ll stay here with the armoured group. That’s it, go on, son!"
   The second "Indian" was found by Alibek. When we saw him he lost already all interest to what was happening around just looking passive at seven Russians, surrounded him, trying on his superb sneakers in their minds, believing to Alibek saying there hadn’t been any money in "dukh’s" pockets. Apparently the graze on the left side of his jaw was the result of their conversation on the topic of "guestins of self-interests". He hadn’t anything but some papers. Even a watch. Though what watch could be found after Alibek?
   Our interpreter Ergashev passed sentences on our find - "dukh", at that not ordinary, considering cloth and sneakers. The captured mumbled something about the grape, an owner of the vineyard, who had escaped to Pakistan and about a truck, which was supposed to come to take the harvest of the grape on the broken, by us, bridge... Well, let him tell about the bridge to our battalion commander, we decided.
   The battalion commander came accompanied by a signalman and captured slim "dekhanne" (peasant) with a hoe, caught by guys from "armoured group". Our "dukh" was standing with proudly raised head, he had already a Soviet soldiers boots without strings on his feet, which obviously didn’t match to his luxurious waistcoat with torn our, who knows why, pocket. We knew already that wounded tankman died in a helicopter. We also knew that he was from Volgograd and it was one of the biggest friendly associations of people from one area in our battalion. The battalion commander was from Volgograd too, that, obviously, didn’t give additional chances to "dukhs" to survive.
   The battalion commander was staying in front of the captured dukh for few seconds. He was listening for his murmur a little bit then turned to my side, shook his head to the dryer direction. I turned pour guy to that direction and pushed him to his back to make him move faster. I was first who entered the dryer, then dukh came in after me, and the last one was the battalion commander. It was dry and dark inside the dryer. The darkness made the illusion of coolness. Poles with put on them clusters of grapes, heavy covered with the white dust, protruded from walls of the dryer. My every move made all small particles of the dust flying and made charming scene of their move in the air under the light of Sun beams, coming through wholes in the walls of the dryer. The battalion commander stopped and I saw him very well. The dukh was standing between us his face to battalion commander. "Dushman?" - asked the battalion commander. "Nis, dust", - the Afghan showed surprise on his face, his head was shaking with the rhythm of talking out words. "Come here, son", - asked me the battalion commander and I, trying to make dust fly as little as possible, squeezed my body between poles with grape clusters and the Afghan and approached the battalion commander. "Watch the door, I don’t want anybody to interrupt us", - the battalion commander said. I was standing behind his back. The Afghan murmured something, the commander of battalion vacantly listened to him, just looking around I didn’t know why. "So, you killed enough our guys", - he resulted the conversation. The Afghan, apparently, understood the change, catching the mood of the battalion commander by his intonation. He wanted to say something, to be more convincing he even hold out his hand to the battalion commander and immediately got very cruel "shito" blow to his stomach. Unsaid words just stuck in his throat, he couldn’t breath and keeping hands on the stomach had to bend, keeping catching air. "Son, give me your knife", - the battalion commander stretched out his hand, turning to me a little bit. I'd like to explain, I always carried the knife in RD in the special pocket, fixed to it, that allowed me to take it, if to pull straight up without a sheath, and if to pull right-up - with the sheath. That's the whole trick.
   I didn't have time to understand what was happening, took out a knife in the sheath. It was my mistake. The battalion commander, taking a knife from my hand, hit the "dukh" to his neck. "Dukh" wheezed out, fell down on his back, raising a cloud of dust. The battalion commander with word: "What do you think I need that knife for!" threw, putting knife out, the sheath to me. The sheath hit upon on my face, blinding me for a moment. When the flash in my eyes and sparks of it were over I saw a commander, sitting on a "dukh", who laid on his back, driving the knife into his body one time and another with the words: "Where the hell is his heart?" The dust was running round in that crazy dance of death enlightened by the Sun beams, born by movements of two bodies, making the whole scene unreal. When the commander rose to his feet I was still standing there captivated by that sun stream of dust...
   That way I keep in mind that "dukh". Slanting beams of the Sun light through the holes in the wall are piercing the darkness of the drying room. The clusters of grapes, collected by somebody's careful hands, in spite of the war and collapse. Padded tank. Blown up bridge. The irrigation ditch with powerful but slow current. The dead tankman. Our group, tired, sweaty all covered with the dust. The battalion commander with inflamed eyes. Seemed coolness of the drying room. The body of the dead "dukh". The knife in my hand with the spots of stranger's, thickening in my sight, blood. And the dust. Small, going everywhere, particles of dust. Flying over all what had happened. Slowly settling in a puddle of blood. And its dance is seen only in the contrast of the darkness of the drying room and the Sun beams, filled with abysmal, as it seemed to me that time, meaning. We all are just grains of sand in the vortex of some movements of the destiny. Somebody is flying up and running around in that dance of the light and darkness and somebody remains motionless and apathetic as that "dekkhanen" (peasant) with the hoe, who even didn't know that he would have to take, prepared by a destiny, fate:
   We managed to pull the tank out and it was brought to subdivision. The battalion went out of the "greens", executed issued task combing the area.
   We were sleeping in BTRs. Washed and fed in a hurry. We expected one more march to the other area of combat actions in the morning. It was the third day of brigade raid. I was sleeping in own BTR. I had no dreams. Only in seven months I began to be scared of dreams, waking up on a hospital bed by the war, which came to me in nights. The war erased the edge between the Victory and the Defeat. I treated both of them as the next test of life. That time the war didn't need me, because she owned me with all my shit like it owned everybody sleeping next to me. Everything will get covered with dust...
   "Fly" - grenade louncher.
   "Nist dust" - "No, friend..." - (dary language)
   "RD" - paratroopers soldiers bagpack
   (c) Pavel Andreev, 1998

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