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Andreev Pavel
The Old Anecdote

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   Art of War. Pavel Andreev. The Old Anecdote
   "A tavern at the Wild West. A cowboy is coming in. There are a lot of people inside, drinking, talking, smoking. There is one vagabond sleeping with his head on his arms, at a side table, heaped up with empty glasses and scraps. The cowboy takes the vacant place at that table. The vagabond stinks, there is no more vacant places in the whole tavern but this one. The cowboy orders a couple of drinks one for himself another one for the vagabond and suddenly recognises, in the vagabond, his old friend. "Is it you, Bill, my old friend?" - the old cowboy exclaims. The vagabond is despondently looking at him hardly remembering his face and says: "That's right, John, it's me." "What happened to you, old man. I can't believe it's you! Where are your gun, hat and bold glare? What did kill a brave guy in you, I knew ten years ago?" - the cowboy asks. "Well, this is a long story, John. But if you want I can tell you," - the vagabond Bill begins his sad story.
   Do you remember, John, I had a mare? That one you wanted to swap for your Winchester? So I was riding through this wretched small town about eight years ago. It was very hot! I was thirsty and could not bear it any more. So I came into this bloody tavern and ordered a glass of whisky. The very moment I was going to empty it with one big swallow to sprinkle the desert of my stomach as I heard some screams and strange sounds from the outside. I came out and saw two Indians flogging my mare's snout! I immediately took out my Colt and killed them both! Being upset I mounted on my mare and went back to mountains.
   Two years passed by. I was riding through this town again. I was anticipating the pleasure of drinking whisky! No way, the very moment I brought a glass to my parched lips I heard vague strokes. I came out, having not drunk my whisky, and what do you think I saw?! Five Indians were flogging my mare. I shot, killed all of them and went out without my whisky again!
   So, three years later, after that impudent attack, I found myself in this town again. So I decided not to lose a chance and to drink my whisky. I took a full glass of whisky. I took it up and listened carefully. There was no sound heard from the street! I proudly threw a content of the glass in my throat. Whisky even did not have time to heat my body up as I heard terrible scream from the outside. I rushed out. That was scream of my dying mare! A huge crowd of Indians tore her to ribbons in one second. I took out my Colt and shot all rounds in that crowd. I was fighting as a lion! I tore them with my hands and teeth but had to withdraw! When the night covered the town I stole up to the tavern and buried my pour mare. John, do you remember what mare I had!? So, John, for three years already I've been carrying the hoofs of my dear chestnut, I cut off before putting her in that damned soil, as the only memory of her."
   "So Bill!", - John exclaimed in surprise. "Is it the hoofs of you chestnut which stink?" "No, John, this is my socks. But you did not understand anything," - Bill answered sorrowfully. He was doomed to misunderstanding".
   It was obviously the old man was telling that sorrow anecdote not in the first time already. No doubt the story was added with new, picturesque, details every new time. There were only two of them in a compartment. They had a lot of time for thoughts ahead of them. A train was carrying them along the plains of Kazakhstan. They got aboard together in Novosibirsk, and were heading to Alma-Ata. Valera's fellow traveller was old Jew going to visit his daughter. They began to talk and found the conversation quite interesting. Boris Abramovitch Dreizin carried a war as a field surgeon. His eyes still kept the glitters and that confirmed his genuine interest to life and people. The old man went on the conversation, begun from the sorrow anecdote about the cowboy.
   "Look, Valeriy, what life situation is described in the anecdote. The cowboy - brave, young man, who had lots of victories, - being broken by the last combat for the life of his mare, who he loved and estimated, walks from one tavern to another with her hoofs on his neck as the sign of mourning. Obviously that guy has neither future nor the present. He lives in the past. No doubt his socks stink but he just does not notice it. He is not with us. He is in the past and there is no odour of his socks in the past!
   When people think about the past they often exclaim with vexation: "Oh, God damn it! How could I act like that? It was so stupid." If the feeling of guilt, connected with some events in the past, is very deep a man can fall into condition of the constant regret for few months or even years. The precious time and energy is spent to regret about what was done or, in contrary, put off, said or concealed, begun and abandoned. From the point of view of logic it is total absurd, Valery. All problems of the present of our cowboy were generated in the past. Those problems have power only due to the work of our imagination. But, at the same time, right used imagination can turn many negative situations in our lives into positive ones.
   If you, Valery, felt sometimes you did something wrong in your past I bet you have a wish which could be described as: "If I only could come back to that situation I would definitely have corrected everything." No way, you would not be able to change anything. Just remember - you are acting in the best way all the time. Thus your wish to change something in your past just shows you became a different man. You acted the only way you could that time and if you are sent back to the same situation under the same circumstances, burden with the same emotions I am sure you would have acted the same way you used to. If you think you did something wrong in you past and now regret about it that means the only thing - you are different, more mature man. If you was not changed you would feel the same towards your act as you used to feel when doing that.
   Our cowboy neither changed his attitude to his deed nor changed himself. He is totally possessed by the past, which smells just terrible in our anecdote. So this is such a lovely edifying story, young man. You must get tired of listening to me? Let's go to bed - this is the best way to trick both time and yourself."
   - The group, led by a platoon commander, entered a kishlak (a name for a village in Asia). Eight, covered with white dust, saturated with sweat and tiredness bodies were carefully moving along an odd lane almost not casting shadows on dry, strange ground. He was walking in the middle of that group. He was wearing a tactical vest, carrying Kalashnikov sub-machine gun, RD (Ranets Desantnika - paratrooper's backpack) and model 148 radio station, he's taken over from a radio operator who was left with the main group - the guy's torn his ligaments on the right ankle. The group was moving in the used rhythm of combing. The platoon commander pulled the group forward like an engine. The kishlak was not big - two lanes with houses on each side behind duvals (solid clay fence), on the border of the green area. He was suppressed by the silence all the time they were moving along that clay hamlet. It was too calm. They entered the straight and narrow lane. In the end of the lane, which was set against the emerald green wall of flora, they saw a padded, most likely from the time of first combats, BMP (Boevaja Machina Pekhoty - armoured carrier), stuck to a breach in the duval. He could see quite often such monuments of the enthusiasm of first combats. It was clear the carrier has been here for a long time already. On its hull they saw signs of foolish shooting of its already dead armour.
   A sudden thought appeared in his head. The narrow corridor of high, clay walls of duvals and the hull of the dead armoured carrier reminded him a shooting gallery of his school, the piece of proud of his military teacher, who served all his time in engineering forces (in Russia there were special forces for building different structures as buildings, roads etc. As usually people who could do nothing else but to obey to stupid order were sent there, or those who had some problems with the law). The group scattered along the lane. The view of dead carrier with dusty tracks of footwear on racked armour evoked feelings of anxiety and uneasiness. Everybody stood motionless, snuggling up to the duval. He was surprised by the silence again. No, it was not the silence. The only sound filled the burnt, by the Sun, air. All of them heard strange, repeated tap resounded from behind the duval with odd periodically. Like somebody tapped a pebble against a pebble. The sound was so quite that seemed casual. Based on strained faces of guys in the group, the way they exchanged glances with each other, he understood that everybody was listening to the sound. There was a break in the duval next to dead BMP. They could see a dense green of a garden, filled with long wished coldness and moisture, through it. The silence and the total absence of the air motion affected oppressively. The radio station, fixed on Valery's chest, was hissing and whizzing in receiving mode. The commander of the platoon came up to him and began to report, using his radio station. He was standing there listening to their inconsistent exchange of opinions. The rest of guys just leaned against the duval. A rear watchman - tall Turkoman, armed with a machine gun - was standing behind everybody, looking in the opposite direction. "Do not think about it, just do it!" - this phrase was the best cure, donated to him by a sergeant in the training unit. He tried not to think about what's caused the oppressive feeling of anxiety, but he did not know what to do either. He never figured out who of them was the first to herd that whistle.
   Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, two young dukhs (dukh - a slang name for guerrilla, short version of dushman) appeared behind them. The rear watchman saw them while the rest of the group turned in unison to the gap in the duval, near BMP, hearing low but distinct whistle. The machine-gunner shouted to them something, everybody turned around and saw two young dukhs high because of marihuana, cheering themselves up with yells, simultaneously aimed "Flies" (disposable grenade launcher) to the group. The machine-gunner in the rear of the group fired a long burst of machine-gun fire. Valery saw, like in a slow-motion movie, the fire stream of bullets from PK (Pulemet Kalashnikova - Kalashnikov machine gun) tearing the body of one of the dukhs. That one, falling down under the lead stream, could manage to shoot the "Fly", but missed the machine-gunner. The grenade flew near the machine-gunner, and exploded in the midst of group of the guys, who tried to shoot in response to or to hide themselves near BMP, on the rebound. The second dukh aimed right and shot directly to the machine-gunner, the explosion tore his body apart. Almost simultaneous deaths of three men stopped exchange of fire. Everybody stood still for a moment, guys, wounded by grenade fragments, were screaming, two dead bodies of dukhs were reposing in unnatural postures in the fog of dust, generated by two explodes of "Flies". The remains of their pal, who took all load of awful death on himself, were reposed between the group and dead dukhs. Nothing changed in the whole world. The Sun still shone, the dust was flying in colourless, because of heat, air, turning to, felt by everybody, smell of death. The radio station began to shout out by voice of a company commander, asking about heard shots and explodes. Valery looked around. Fragments from the grenade seriously wounded three soldiers in the group. One has right side torn. Two others have wounds in their backs. The rest of the group tried to help them. Nobody could recover from what had happened. Valery, in perplexity, leaned above the remains of Mukhamed's body. Who could even think this guy would be killed in such a way. Suddenly everybody heard the loud and provocative whistle again. All that Valery saw then remained in his mind forever, turning his life in nightmare.
   That guy, with thick black hair, didn't have a turban on his head. He was wearing a green T-shirt, with bulletproof vest above it and few machine-gun belts around his chest. He got white sneakers on his feet. That man was standing in the gap and it seemed he would invite them all to come to the paradise coldness of a garden. But it didn't happen. Everything was different. The platoon commander and some of the guys could manage to begin shooting first. The duval around that handsome guy immediately was covered with clouds of dust made by bullets, which tore the clay wall but couldn't hit the gunner. He was standing in the gap, sending long bursts of machine-gun fire to people who were shooting him. He was sending death, avoiding it by some miracle way himself. Somebody fell down behind him but he went on shooting and his machine-gun executed his wish, sending bullets at almost point-blank range. Almost each of them hit its target, overthrowing young, strong bodies to dust. It seemed time just stopped, letting the death to harvest. There weren't any place to survive among late explodes of grenades, throwing fragments in the narrow, filled with death, street. Valery was shooting too, he saw dukhs overthrown back from the BMP hull, appeared there like roaches, by the response fire of Kalashnikov guns. The only machine-gun in the gap went on shooting and shooting. Nothing could recreate justice in that duel of one against all. Here was his turn. Valery felt few hot, shock blows to his chest and arm. He was overthrown on his back by blows and he fell back, spreading his arms out and losing the Kalashnikov gun. The burning sensation turns into intolerable pain, taking all power and chasing away the consciousness. He saw the platoon commander fell the last one, hit by the burst of fire, like through foggy air. Everything was over in one moment, which lasted forever. The Sun, the dust, dead bodies and useless weapon everywhere. Valery was on his back. The bullet, issued by the machine-gunner to his chest, hit the shell of the radio station and wounded his cheek, on the rebound. His wounded cheek was bleeding. He hardly managed to open his eyes, stuck together by the blood. He saw white sneakers of the machine-gunner next to his face. That one was standing next to him and was talking to himself in strange, for Valery, language. Then, suddenly, he gutturally shouted something to the gap direction. He was answered. White sneakers were motionless for one more moment and then began their wild dance. The machine-gunner went on shouting out something, began to shoot to dead bodies, revolving around himself. He was shooting revolving, increasing the speed of revolving and hot shells were falling on Valery's body and he couldn't bear it any more. It seemed to him that only his scream could take him out of that nightmare-
   Valery was woken up by strong and sharp jerk. The compartment was enlightened by a mate lamp. He heard rhythmic sound of wheels behind a window. The old man, leaning above Valery, tried to see the Valery's face and understand the reason of his nightmare. "Did I scream?" - Valery asked the old man. "Yes, son, you were screaming. Old wounds hurt you?" - the old man tried to look in Valery's eyes. "No", - answered Valery and thought to himself: "That is the past, old man, though you didn't understand anything!".
   (c) Pavel Andreev, 1999

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