The Torn Souls: an Anthology of Prose About the Soviet War in Afghanistan
The book represents a unique collection of "Afghan" stories based on the events that occurred during the Afghanistan War (1979-1989). The authors of these true storiessoldiers and officers, who later were classified in Russian literature as "Afghan authors", directly participated in the military actionsin different parts ofAfghanistan. Their memoirs became a stepping stone for the emergence of a new kind of Russian literature- "Afghan prose". This book is a pilot project for the first translation into English of a collection of an anthology of Afghan prose - "The Torn Souls".
Электронная версия сборника англоязычной антологии прозы о войне в Афганистане "The Torn Souls: an Anthology of Prose About the Soviet War in Afghanistan". Скачать книгу можно на сайте государственного информационного агентства ЛНР "Луганский Информационный Центр", выступившего информационным спонсором проекта.
Электронная версия сборника англоязычной антологии военной прозы о войне в Афганистане "The Torn Souls: an Anthology of Prose About the Soviet War in Afghanistan" появилась в свободном доступе. Скачать книгу можно на сайте государственного информационного агентства ЛНР "Луганский Информационный Центр", выступившего информационным спонсором проекта.
Выпуск сборника реализован Союзом писателей ЛНР совместно с общественными, государственными структурами и частными лицами четырех государств - ЛНР, ДНР, России и Австралии.
Глава Союза писателей ЛНР Глеб Бобров отметил, что для современной русской военной литературы выход такой антологии - "событие историческое".
"Впервые в культурный оборот англоязычного литературного пространства введена столь представительная подборка "афганской" прозы. Ни в советское, ни в постсоветское время ничего подобного никогда не издавалось. Также культурную значимость этого проекта составляет сам факт выхода столь уникальной книги в воюющем и осажденном Донбассе - форпосте русского мира", - подчеркнул писатель.
Экземпляры альманаха уже переданы в библиотеки Луганской и Донецкой Народных Республик, также часть тиража направлена в библиотеки ряда учебных заведений России, Великобритании, США и Австралии.
Writers' Union of Lugansk People's Republic
The Torn Souls
a Prose Anthology
of the Soviet - Afganistan War
Editor's and Translator's Foreword
If you read these words, it means that you hold the book "Torn Souls".
Before you turn the first page, I want to warn you?- this book is a rather out of the ordinary collection of stories based on memoirs of the direct participants of Soviet ?- Afghanistan War ( 1979-1989).
This book is not for the average person who prefers to read a detective story with "soap opera" murders during their leisure time, although you will read about more than enough murders in this book.
This book is not for lovers of horror or thrillers, although described horrors in this book, will make your blood freeze and hairs stand on end; and cannot be compatible even with the most violent fantasy.
This book is also not for lovers of the romantic genre, although the whole book is permeated with imbued feeling of the highest sense of love for human being in any form and any manifestations.
This book is for very special people. It is written for those who are not stuck in monotony; for those, who are not afraid to be honest with themselves and who can take the burden of responsibility of others and, regardless of your bleeding soul, will carry the heavy onus to the end.
This is an odd book that raises more questions than answers about the nature of human kind in critical situations.
This book is the honest revelation of those who went through the hell called "Afghanistan", and who, with their torn souls, maintained their dignity as a man.
I also want to draw you attention, my Reader, that this book is the first attempt ever to translate "Afghani genre" which just very recently landed on the lap of Russian literature, into English.
I hope you find the book to be a thought-provoking and a powerful experience, as I did.
P.S. Doctor of Philosophy Irina Vasilenko lives and works in Melbourne (Australia). She volunteered to face the challenge as Translator and Editor of pilot this project.
Shaynin, Artem Grigorievich was born in 1966, in Moscow. From 1984 to 1986 he served in the 56th Airborne Assault Brigade, located in Afghanistan, Paktia Province, Gardez. After returning to civil life, he graduated from the Lomonosov Moscow State University. Since 2000, Shaynin Artem Grigorievich has worked on television. Currently he is a prominent talk show host and received the TEFI Award for "Best Prime Time Political Talk Show Host". Shaynin Artem is also a well - known journalist, he is a member of the Writers' Union of Russia.
December 8, 1984, Nara-Aliheil.
What we waited for since late November eventually happened at last. One gorgeous day - with no exaggeration! - we received our weapons, and marched to a parking lot, where the ready - to-go "darlings" APCs were waiting for us from the very early morning.
A convoy brigade began slowly stretching toward Gardez - and everything around was covered with a bluish stinking smoke. Our tents were getting smaller and smaller with every minute, and very soon they disappeared from out sight.
Goodbye, our odious home! I wish I will not see you for a long time!
After a long and dreary march on the mountain roads, we have reached the mountain named Nara that sheltered one allied garrison of the Afghan army; and I do not think that we have met any other allied Afghan garrisons during our "military" operation until we reached the border with Pakistan. The task of our operation, as being broadly explained, was to deliver food and ammunition to this garrison that was besieged by mujahidins (see "Terminology ad Glossary"?- Editor); and to do so we have to endure a long march to Aligal.
Now we know that it was named "military" because the march involves not just our 56st Air Assault Brigade but also many other divisions of the 40th Army, located at different areas of Afghanistan. So, our brigade became involved in this operation because we were controlling the area of Aligal. For those who served the army, no need to explain in detail how massive and complex the tasks were.
However, we were young, and, at that time, we had not accumulated enough military knowledge to realise how hard the operation was, although our training and preparation drills this time were unusually thorough. We went through several trainings exercises across the mountains, shooting ranges, and ran so-called "equipment drills", in which our equipment has being personally checked in detail: do we have a pair of spare footcloths in our BP ( see "Terminology ad Glossary"?- Editor) or not. But more significant was the fact that all of these drills were conducted under the special control of the super important inspectors that arrived from a very high-up level of the army, being the Command District of Tashkent.
But no matter how this well-intentioned thoroughness had been applied towards our preparation, all this training gave us nothing but troubles, bringing more problems to us, the young soldiers. Nobody had explained to us how to equip our BP. All drills were based on a formal "that is correct" tick which was an approval of your BP contents if has been packed according to some rules invented by someone with a higher military rank.
Unfortunately, this "someone" has hardly ever been in a fight in the mountain areas. This "someone" could hardly imagine the size of the prescribed BP. Otherwise, many unnecessary things, such as a toothbrush, an under-collar's spare hemming, and similar sorts of items, would not have been compulsory items on that "correct list". Of course, nobody took them at the time of military operation. A dental paste? What for? When you are marching across the mountains, every sip of water is as precious as gold...
Accordingly, to satisfy this "correct list", we have to pack all sorts of things into BP and demonstrate them to a swaggering colonel-examiner. And if - God forbid!- something will be missing in our BP from the prescribed contents, then, no doubt, the company commander will reprimand you on the spot; and then all sorts of nonsense will follow with predictable consequences for a young soldier...
In brief, whilst we were preparing for this military operation, we got so much fed up with all of this nonsense that we could not wait for the real military action.
Eventually, we got what we wanted....
...Near Narai we stopped for two or three days; and every day we were waiting for when we will go into the mountains.
But which one is Narai, amongst these massive peaks that surrounded us, I had no idea. And honestly I did not care. If they told us to stay near the mountain of Narai, this Narai must be nearby.. and to tell the truth, they did not tell us about Narai. The name of Narai I accidentally picked up when I overheard a radio conversation. How could I know at that moment that this Narai would be forever imprinted in my memory? It would be like a splinter under my heart for life...
For some reason, Hindu Kush, Panjshir, Black Mountains or some other places with more onerous and impressive military actions, have not made such an impact on my life. Amongst all rich mountain areas of Afghanistan, only Narai will be vividly remembered, engraving its image in my mind forever.
Well, let's go back to that time, when a relatively flat area between two mountains, which hosted our armoured brigade, was the main focus of my interest.
The whole surface of this flat area was covered with some things that look like large pebbles and gray sand, or gravel. Maybe it was not gray. But low hanging heavy clouds did paint the entire surface in a gray colour. It was the beginning of snow season. In the middle of this area was something that we called "a river": it was three metres wide, with a depth of half a metre, but with a very fierce current.
The main impression from our stay at Narai was a feeling of freezing cold; we felt damp there all the time. We also felt that our worse expectations were coming. Maybe it was an influence of neighbouring mountains: so visible after the last line of "pebbles". The mountains did cover our horizon to the endless slopes, which we saw in a distance, but after that we could see nothing. Where do we have to go? When, why? What was waiting for us there? It was unknown. We were anxious.
Meanwhile, we put up tents and almost all our time we were trying to warm them up. We collected anything that can burn on this bare stony plateau: any sticks, wooden chips and flammable rubbish. We desperately needed to get a fire going because our cold pre-packed lunches should be heated up to be edible. At night we needed a fire to make our tents a bit warmer to be able to sleep.
Of course, all of these extra responsibilities were given to us. According to the unspoken army code, we were "young soldiers" who have not yet served the army long enough; we had been solders just a little bit longer than six months, to be exact - eight months, and four of them we served in Afghanistan.
Apart of these extra duties to organise our everyday life, we, "the youngest", should be involved in all "leisure activities" for the whole military company - the platoon commander Plotnikov did not allow us to relax. The next day after arriving at the area, the second platoon was chosen for "leisure activities", as commander Plotnikov decided to conduct a "swimming" day.
Even before the march, we have not been famous for our cleanness: we must do some unclean tasks - do dishes, do laundry, collect and carry coal, or wood, heating up stoves in tents. But during the march we became dirty as coal miners. How we could not be!? At every camp, we were constantly starting up a fire for heating up packed lunches in the zinc cans that were left after bombing. These cans we put on a smoky diesel fuel - we do not have firewood! No wonder why, Plotnikov was not impressed with us, military miners.
Plotnikov was a cheerful, solid, thickset man, about twenty eight years old, wearing a warm pea jacket - the safe heaven! Actually, our officers were fed well, and, no wonder, he put all his energy into actions. So, we were ordered to march to "the river".
I cannot describe how we did not want to be separated from our warm pea jacket, regardless how short and thin these jackets were. No one was keen to take off the warm winter vest together with a shirt over it, but Plotnikov does not allow us to hesitate. In a minute, all naked torsos were exposed and covered with soapsuds, using, in turn, a pitiful bar of a soap taken from a laundry. First, we should wash our hands, and then, feeling almost nothing with these hands, we should proceed to wash our skinny bodies. (I remember that I felt worse than others. While we were driving along the mountains in an armoured car, I did not take off my cap with flaps, my wounded ear inflamed with discharges glued my ear firmly to my cap).
Naked up to the waist, but wearing a cap, I immediately attracted the platoon commander's attention. After my explanation, he, without any hesitation, ordered me to remove the cap. I lingered for a minute, and he abruptly pulled off the cap together with a crust of dried pus and blood from my ear. At that moment it seemed to me like he pulled off my sore ear.
Realizing what he had done, Plotnikov extended the disaster: to balance damage control, he hit me in my healthy ear, then he called a medical instructor of the Company, Lenya Chmyr - as it was written on his badge, and ordered him to bandage my sore ear. Now, without even being at a "battle", my head was bandaged up and looked wounded. This is why everybody, of course, mocked me about "a bandit bullet". But there was another disadvantage - I became a very noticeable "white dot", which officers and "veterans" (a military slang for soldiers after their second year army service - Editor) can pick up easily if they needed someone for their bullying exercises.
This was how my fate crossed with Grishin for the last time. Among all of the "veterans", he had no standout particularity. He drew well, and, from time to time, he made illustrations for the company combat leaflet. When he was doing this, he locked himself up in Lenin's room and drew quickly a main part, and after that - jumped into bed. I would like to comment that before our arrival, "veterans" always feel the lack of sleep, exactly like we, the "zelenye" (see "Terminology and glossary"?- Editor), felt. But even with time they cannot get rid of the bad habit.
Gene Grishin belonged to the first platoon, which together with my second platoon was located on the same floor, opposite each other, next to the Lenin room. This is why I quite often was on lookout for him. In the case of a political officer, senior lieutenant Shmygalya, a Komsomol organizer company, or "the veteran" Rinat Gabaydulin appearing, I had to warn him, so he will jump up and pretend to be drawing.
I have no idea why Gene was a calm and normal "veteran". Maybe because of his inclination towards the arts or maybe because he was called up for the military service from Klin, a quiet small town near Moscow, were the reasons, who knows?
He never bullied us; of course, he ordered us to do some of his work remembering the "veterans" law - "if you cannot make young solders do it, then do it yourself".
So, in accordance with this law, in December `84, I was "hooked" by Gene Grishin and his countryman Misha Sergeev.
These two were ordered to fetch some water from the river with an enormous bucket that had a volume of one hundred litres. For two people, it was possible to do, but my "white spot" was flashing and they immediately spotted me and ordered me to follow them. You see, in the army it was a matter of principle.
Of course, I made an attempt to elude them, but always gloomy Sergeev at that moment so dangerously hissed in his menacing tone that I decided to put up with them and do it. Misha compared to Gene, was tougher, he was the one who can easily give you a lesson of obedience; and because I already had one that ended up with the ringing in my ears - thanks to the platoon commander's "educational work"-, I decided to do the job.
Filled with the water from the river, the enormous bucket was hooked by two of us with belts and we dragged it in turns (to be precise - they took turns, and I was working non-stop) towards the tents of our company.
I could not believe that on our way to the tents, Plotnikov spotted us. He immediately understood that "the young one" had been forced by the "veterans" to do their job, and after promising to give the "veterans" some problems in the near future, he "repossessed" me back.
The glances that were being cast at me by Grishin and Sergeyev were a bad omen. Now, these two have to drag this heavy and uncomfortable bucket back to the tents like "young soldiers". In the army, any sort of defence from any officer led to a bigger problem. It was one of the soldiers' rules.
Sadly, this is how I remembered Gene Grishin - with his angry eyes staring at me, the eyes almost colourless under the gray sky of Narai. It was less than a day before the Gene's death - he was the very first man who died in front of me...
That evening and night, they were busy and did not have time to deal with me; but in the morning, we received an order to march into the mountains. Paradoxically, we, "young solders" were happy to do it because we were tired from a constant fatigue, bullying from crazy, bored "veterans". However, the cases of aggressive behaviour towards comrades sharply reduced after spending time side-by-side in the mountains. For us "the youngest"- to receive the order to ambush the mujahidins all the way to the border of Pakistan, will be much more favourable than the humiliation that we experienced from our "own" people. Just leave us alone!
Indeed, better to say nothing about the Red Army methods of how to lift the soldiers' moral spirit - the military operation that frightened us a couple of days ago, now was taken as a relief.
To tell the truth, mood has been slightly spoiled because the first, so-called "veteran" platoon was also marching with us. But at least we were glad to get rid of the demobs-idiots from the third platoon.
So, we moved into the mountains as a co-jointed column but with two platoon commanders and on top of the cake was a deputy political commissar.
Around my neck is an AK (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor), which I have received upon arrival to Afghan. Unlike ordinary assault AKs used by our brigade, mine was with a non-folding wooden butt and a metal magazine. Usually this model has SSD - "silent shooting device". However, my AK did not have it- who knows where this SSD disappeared to, but I can reassure you, it had happened before my conscription. But being in the army you have to carry a weapon, regardless of its condition. Is there any sense of this? Well, who cares about sense in the army, anyway?
Plus an additional disadvantage of the AK 7.62 was the size of the cartridges; they were shorter but thicker than the model 5.45 AK. This is why, as "a privilege" of being a "young soldier", I should carry "two CKs" (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor), which, as the regulation stated, has 900 cartridges of ammunition; some of them crammed into metal, not plastic magazines, and the weight is terribly heavy.
Also four grenades, a smoke-shell, flares, flare guns, a helmet, a flak jacket, a digging tool, cotton pants, felt boots, a waterproof cape tent, and camping food for three days (nine heavy cans and three huge packs of crackers) should be not forgotten...
In total, all of these weighed thirty-five kilograms - and was half of the size of me - and I had to carry this into the mountains! Tell me, how an ordinary fellow from Moscow, who had never been in the mountains higher than the Lenin Hills ((see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor), can do it !? Plus, for the last seven months I have not had enough sleep and food. My ear was painful under the purulent bandages covering my head. Besides, I wear the heavy tarpaulin boots with puttees on my feet, which we were ordered to put on only a month ago. Nobody taught us how to use the puttee. In Fergana (see "Terminology and Glossary"- Editor) we wore the boots, in Afghanistan we were given the ankle boots with laces and socks; and at that time, our supervisors, who provided a ceremonial check-up, did not care whether I can wind on the puttees or not. The main thing, as we were instructed, was to bring extra puttees with you, as "the way it should be".Well, nothing more to say...
Also it is worth mentioning, after an hour of marching, your heart was beating so hard that you could hardly breathe, your legs, covered with blood, became incontrollable and disobedient to your commands, and you could not lift your head. But we should keep scrambling up and up on the endless slopes of foothills. The stops occur more often, and with each rest we tried desperately to catch our breath, but it leads to nothing - only to start moving after these breaks become even harder.
I remember that in such a moment, the political officer came to me - by that time, he already disliked me: he failed to convert me into a snitch - and in his usual manner he begins to "encourage" me with something like: " you are a useless fart", "a piece of shit in this world", and "people like you are just a waste in this world".
Yep... he can talk- why not? He wears the light "Afghan" ankle boots. His BP (see "Teminology and Glossary"- Editor), as I can assess, has a packed food ration only for 2 days, and a very economical supply of ammunition. Indeed, he is definitely enjoying his weight deficiency, as I can observe.
His "political propaganda" did extend my sufferings but I did not bother to reply back. I simply could not do it, because, at this point, I was not a human, I became an exhausted mule dragging a half-dead body up to the hill. All I can think of is to have a little break at this moment, but I know, there will be no stop in the near future: our company commander Pikunov, nicknamed "Rex", already rushed ahead with his platoon of "dembels" (See "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor), and definitely they will not be slowing down because of some emaciated soldiers. Moreover, he has a mission, he knows where he is going and why. We do not. We are not required to know about it - we should just do, and keep doing, until we will get the next order.
... And this happens at the moment when I almost gave up walking, and, it seemed to me, I will crash on the ground any minute. I did not care anymore if the political officer will go into pieces from his anger.
Climbing to a hill with a round peak, we formed a sort of semicircle, in which I was in the centre among the first platoon "veterans". Ahead of me was Kravchenko, behind me was Grishin and someone else, from their platoon, was on the right, Vova Mordvinov was a little bit further on. He is (together with the Belyiy and Pakhomov) from our year's conscription, but for some mysterious reason they were directed to serve with "dembels".
In parallel to us, a chain of "young" soldiers from Afghan government troops kept climbing. Suddenly I heard that someone from the top of the hill cried out to the "dembels". My first impulse was to take to the right- it was a short cut, even though I had to go through some low bushes, - but somehow I have got an idea that our soldiers will be gathering together somewhere ahead. So I kept walking behind Cravoy, who proceeded walking strictly step-in-step, as he was taught, behind a soldier, who, in the same manner, followed a sapper with a probing rod." They called the dembels to have a rest!!!"?- the idea flashed across my mind.
The last thing I remember (everything that followed after slipped from my memory, as I only remember fragments of sensations, sounds of this event) was that somewhere, very close to the right and a bit behind me, a powerful explosion blows the earth... I feel that something hits me in the face... I was falling...
Darkness covered my eyes together with a terrifying burst from machine guns that fire from everywhere but a heart-rending cry suppressed all sounds, it was not even a human cry, it was a heart-rending yell of a wounded animal.
I still have no idea what happened, and what was going on around me. When I opened my eyes, I spotted one of the Afghani soldiers, or "greenhorns" as we named them, who was firing franticly not far from me.
"I should open fire too"?- this thought came to my mind and I pulled off the gun belt from my neck. But when, somehow, I realised that shooting was coming only from us, nobody was actually shooting towards us. I think this realisation came to the "greenhorn" as well.
And then a fallen deafening silence was cut by the cry, scream and howl, which can be heard more distinctly in the cold air. I do not know how to describe it, but it was an inhuman sound which I had not heard before and I did not hear after.
I turned around towards this cry- there was a something like an earth-gray creature lying on the ground and moving in an absolutely unnatural way. I remember, how I tried to compose my thoughts to comprehend a jerking leg with bloody scraps hanging above the place where there should be a knee.
It takes seconds. Plotnikov, and someone else, runs up to him and I understand that Gene Grishin is lying on the ground. Running towards Gene, the platoon commander briefly asked me why my face is blooded - but, I did not feel anything - and making sure that it was scratched from small stones, he rushed to Grishin. Plotnikov already was there, trying hastily to apply a bandage in order to stop the bleeding and fix a tourniquet to his leg. "Scheinin, do you have a belt?"?- he shouted towards me.
But I am still in a stupor of dismay. I do not understand why he needs my belt - a narrow canvas strap for keeping cotton pants. Having no time for explanations, the platoon commander pulls up my bulletproof vest, pea jacket and takes the belt out.
All this time Grishin keeps furiously resisting helpers, trying to get up and look at his leg. Plotnikov tries to hold him but this effort is useless. Gene is screaming horrifyingly. In my head is a terrible non-stop ringing and I feel sick but through the cotton wool in my ears and my head, I realize what he is crying: "Kill me, kill me!". This cry as well as these words can make you mad but it affected me differently - I had unexpected clearness in my mind, emotionally I did not feel better.
The groundsheet that was placed under Gene, immediately became wet with his blood. Plotnikov eventually managed to bandage the leg but to do more was not possible. The Grishin's lower limb was covered with blood.
They turned Grishin over and then Plotnikov sweared helplessly and hopelessly...the second leg of Grishin was ripped off. While Plotnikov was tightening his stump, heavy bleeding occurred, the cause of which was not understandable; even more, at that time, Plotnikiv did not pay much attention to it, thinking that the second leg was the real problem. None of us knew that before climbing into the mountains, Grishin placed the grenade into his pocket and this inexplicable action cost him his life.
Apparently, when he heard voices of friendly troops from the pinnacle, he walked towards the right - through the bushes that I had just passed but I did not yield for the first impulse to cut my way to the top of the mountain.
Actually "walked" will not be quite the right word to use for his action. He just made only one step to the side. The step, as it often happened at war, has determined his fate. He stepped right on the mine buried by a mujahidin in the bushes. This "mine" was actually a can from our own dry ration. It was stuffed with blasting material and was a trip-wire mine. The mine exploded, and the grenade detonated in Gene's pocket, and he lost his leg.
But Plotnikov does not know anything about all of this at that time. He tried hard to stop the second wound bleeding and he had no idea how serious it was. For the platoon commander it was more important to figure out how to send Grishin to the hospital as quickly as possible. The choppers have already been summoned. Plotnikov together with the soldiers from the first platoon picked up the groundsheet with Grishin on it, who was calmed down after a promedol injection. The groundsheet was dragged to some nearby hill, where the "Eight" (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) will soon be landing: an orange smoke appeared in the distance.
After returning from the operation, we found out that Gene was not taken to the hospital. He did not make it. He lost a lot of blood, the tourniquet proved to be useless....
In later years I realised how one step in one split second, or a tiny instinctive motion can change your entire life. But on that day it was very new to me and to Gene who went in the same direction as I was going. He stepped towards the mine a few seconds earlier. But it could have been MY mine....
However, all of these thoughts will occur later, much later, even, probably not in Afghanistan. Over there, I hardly had time to think about it, but the destiny of events will give me a lot of such occasions. And, unfortunately, it will be very soon.
Back then, after the feverish bustle, some strange silence unexpectedly covered everything. All this time I was motionless. Nobody looked at me.
I remember how I tried to move and my legs obeyed me badly. My face is aching and when touching it, it seems to be covered with some blisters. But I need to move forward- I feel that something did happen on the hill, strengthed by the despondency of the incident.
Struggling, I am making my way to the hill and see over there a pit covered with something looking like a plank. I notice what looks like a manhole was in the dugout. In my somnambulistic state I am approaching it, I just want to sit there for a second, and then I hear the Mordvin's voice:
- Hey, Penguin! What are you doing!? Don't go here! Let the sappers examine everything around first.
I obediently sit down on the edge of the pit and wait.The sappers arrived soon, they examined the bottom of the pit, and found two more homemade antipersonnel mines hiding there...
For the last half an hour, fate saved me twice from paying a heavy price like Grishin did. Thanks to my guardian angel and to Mordvin who looked after me with his warning.
We moved less than 15 metres, when someone spotted a strange object on the road. After a closer examination, it turns out to be a half-ripped jackboot with remains of a human leg. That was all that left from Gene Grishin's leg...
Someone, who picked up the terrible thing, got himself into an awkward situation. No doubt, it was useless to carry, but to throw it away was even harder. Whilst the decision- making process was going on, the stern voice of the platoon commander switched on to the reality: "Why the hell have you stopped again, go ahead, the second company!"
A ringing in my head was still bothering me. Chmyr cleaned my wounds, pored iodine on half of them, and now the bandaging on my head does not look so foolish. However, the ringing in my head, the aching face, the heaviness of my backpack - all of these have merged into one continuous rhythm of movement. We kept walking for some time...
As it turned out, we should not have climbed to the mountain, as I overheard from a traffic platoon radio. We should go lower...
The next few days I could hardly remember: it was like one endless day, in which flashes of light outlined some actions.
This whole military operation was my "first Aliheyl" (see "Terminology and Glossary"- Editor) that was divided into two parts: before the death of Grishin and after.
Much later, when I returned home, from time to time the incident with Gene Grishin was haunting me in my dreams with the realistic screaming: "Kill, kill me!" in his inhuman voice. And only then, I understood that my life was slashed into the unmatchable parts: BEFORE the death of Grishin and AFTER.
Kartsev, Alexander Ivanovich was born in 1964. He graduated from the Moscow Higher Military Command School as a military intelligence officer. He was involved in many military operations in Afghanistan, and the anti-piracy campaign of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. He has an extended list of service in Poland, Germany, France, Austria and other countries. He is a member of the Writers' Union of Russia.
Yes, it was a big problem to find a real goose quill. Its absence could pose a threat to a whole idea. Great French writers were known for writing their books just for using goose quills. The only question was arisen - where they got them: definitely not from a shop.
It was pure luck that in his writing desk at home, on its lower shelf, the ink had been found, the real blue ink although a little bit dry, but with his little ingenuity and some tap water, this problem can be fixed easily. As a matter of fact, all of these started with this discovery and then he was enlightened with the idea...
But as for a goose quill... Probably, any French writer could give up due to not coping with all obstacles related to his idea and would have gone to the nearest tavern for drinking wine with his musketeer-friends instead. But he was different, he was not an ORDINARY, he was GREAT! This is why he would not give up for doing anything halfway through anyway.
Walking through endless streets and squares and searching for places inhabitant by the geese, it was not easy to find the goose quill. There were no geese around in the whole city! Soon another idea has crossed his mind - to use the raven ones if the goose one could not be found. However, the raven feathers were not easy to find too. As ill luck would have it, the Ravens did not want to change their plumage in autumn. But he was lucky! Not far from a grocery store, he found what was looking for. Even more: not one - two raven feathers!
In the same evening, he began to work on his dream. As the first necessary step - to do a little practice on a normal sheet of paper. It turned out that to write with a raven feather and ink was not difficult at all, but, to tell the truth, letters were very thick and uneven. They looked almost French, except they were not beautiful.
Moreover, some blots spoiled the whole picture! Fortunately, a way how to fix this problem stroked his mind: to take a knife in the kitchen and do sharpening a tip of the feather. At once all things took a lucky turn!
However, there was another problem: he did not know a single word in French! Of course, he knew some words "Madame", "Cherchez la femme", like every one of us, but had no clue how to write them in French.
For any beginner writer in French, it would be an unsolvable problem too. But not for the GREAT one, who definitely knew how to write in Russian!
Now, the most difficult problem was to select a correct book. Undoubtedly, the most logical decision should be to chose "Three Musketeers". This was a thick book with a shabby cover and yellowish pages that excited his imagination by promising a distant pilgrimage, adventures and courage. Although he had not read a single page yet from this book, he already felt a presentiment of its magic hidden under its cover.
Yes, it was exactly what he needed. This book was substantial for his plans! However, Dad could belt him for "Three Musketeers". As sure as hell, he would!
But, to tell the truth, his father could not do it at any means- not because he never belted his son before, but mainly because he died in some mysteriously distant Afghan two years ago.
But it was pleasant to think that his Dad could punish him. This kind of thoughts was a usual for him, especially in case of doing something wrong or forbidden. It first happened when he and his friend Igoryok pulled down a cigarette from the package hidden by some boy in an empty mailbox, and then two of them smoked secretly in bushes near a railroad. At that moment, he thought that if Dad could see them, for sure a punishment would be evitable. These thoughts helped him to consider Dad to be alive, not to be just the photo hanging on the wall in their room.
Tomorrow will be his birthday. Damn luck that Igoryok had caught the flue, and he won't be able to come! With no other friends, he will have to celebrate the birthday with his mother.
In the writing desk, he has already found his birthday gift from her - a set of watercolour paints and a sketchbook, which she will present him tomorrow.
To tell the truth, he was dreaming about a new rod. It was his dream: bamboo, three-kneed one, like every adult fishermen have. But the rod costs a lot. All right, a set of paints is okay too, let leave it as it is! He is not a little one anymore; tomorrow he will be eight years old! He understands well enough that there no money at home. His mother was working all days long, Even in evenings she was washing a floor at the entrance of some official building, but she cannot even repair the cost of her winter coat. On top of it, every month she should pay for their accommodation. They live in lodgings. They do not have their own place.
But it is okay. When he will grow enough to be an adult, he will buy a rod by himself! Every day he will go fishing and will bring a catch to home. His mother loves to fish so much!
He heard how she cried at nights. She cried very often. She is old, but she cries as if she is a little girl. And why does she crying? It should be better for me to pretend that I am very glad to get her gift - the paints and a sketchbook. He knew that she will be happy.
He also knew that there is a small round melon kept in a refrigerator...and it is very tasty. Of course, it is not as tasty as that huge melon which his Daddy brought for the New Year eve three years ago. All the way from some unknown Tashkent! He still recalled how it was juicy and unusual. And it was transparent because it let the sunlight through each slice! And how it smelled!!! That melon was not the same as this one. This one was tasty because it smelled as THAT one.
...Yes, it is bad that Igoryok could not come. He could not taste this melon. Besides, it would be more cheerful to celebrate birthday with him. He is a good friend. A real one! They even go together to the same school. However, Igor is sitting in the class one level below, he is younger than him. Once or twice he had to deal with Igor's schoolmates when they bullied him. He felt as he was Igor's elder brother. He felt comfortable because of it. He wished he had such brother in real...
Well, he got distracted from his book with all these thoughts... He had to put "Three Musketeers" aside. He wished he did not, of course, but he decided to take some colouring book for children, with its motley pictures although it did not look solid at all. It was too childish. It does not matter! It will be suitable to hide idea too.
Diligently sniffing, he put his hand to the plough. Written with the raven feather, the first letters started to appear on the back cover of the book. These letters formed into words, words into a sentence - "To Sergey Smirnov, the pupil of Class 2A..."
After "Class" his hand trembled treacherously and the big ink blot jumped straight to the paper. But it was only one blot, and he continued: "...from a great French writer AlYxandre Dumas". For a moment he became thoughtful. Then he accurately crossed out a letter "Y" in the word "AlYxandre" and drew a letter "E" above it. Then he considered for a moment and added "Count" after "Dumas". With a comma. Certainly, was Alexandre Dumas a count? Of course, he was!
He leaned back with a great satisfaction and took a deep sigh. Yes, it is hard to be a great French writer! Blood sweat came out until you finished one autograph. Next, he began to blow very hard at the writing on the paper so the ink will dry quickly because he wanted very much to show the book to boys who were playing outside.
They will be so jealous!
For sure, none of them had a book signed by an ordinary French writer, to say nothing, by Count Dumas! Seryozha has no doubts that Dumas was a count.
Many boys sure will seek his friendship as soon as they see this book. He will be not objecting it.
But then he remembered how boys teased him because he was fatherless. But they do not have SUCH book. Does it mean that he is teasing them too? He does not want to do it. He is not a little boy!
Seryozha took a cardboard box out of the writing desk. In this box, he kept his treasures. His Diploma for finishing his first schooling year successfully. A few multi-coloured bits of glasses that he had found last summer on a street. Felt-tip pens which his Dad gave him. They were dry and writing with them was not possible, but Seryozha could not throw them away. At the very bottom of the box, there was the Medal for Bravery and the Order of Red Star. It was all that left from Daddy.
Mujahidin had killed his father. Military men told this when they had brought a big "iron" box in which, according to them, his father was. It was difficult to believe. But when his mother began to cry violently as never before, he believed. He believed that something bad had happened. But also he believed that in few days Daddy definitely will return home. And then he would tell to doctors how confused they were because he is, his father is actually alive.
After the third day this "iron" box was buried at a cemetery by accompanying men. All people were in black and cried. His mother was in black too. And she had a black face. But she did not cry; although everyone asked her to do it. Daddy never came back...
That day Seryozhka decided that he would kill all mujahidin. But then a new thought came into his mind - these mujahidin's could be someone's fathers too. He did not want those boys from some far-away country were brought up without their fathers. It was too bad to live without Dady. So after having serious thoughts, he decided that when he will be an adult, he would never kill anybody.
Seryozhka put this book above all other things. It was the dearest gift for his birthday. Because it was a gift from his Daddy to him. His father was not only a good man but also a very brave. Certainly, if he would be alive, he could be on friendly terms with Count Alexandre Dumas. Surely, the Count would sign one of his books to his best friend's son. If only Daddy was alive...
P.S. Sergeya Smirnov (aka Seryozhka) died during the Second Chechen War. He kept his word. He killed nobody.
Andreev, Pavel (a pen name Andrei Vasilyevich Pavlyukov) is the author of a well known collection of short stories "Rassypukha" ( See " Terminology and Glossary - Editor). Andreev was born in 1962 in Kazakhstan. He was studying in the Mining Institute of Sverdlovsk, when in the autumn of 1981, he was drafted into the national military service. He was directed to serve the army in the 70th brigade that was located in Afghanistan. In 1982, near Kandahar, he was severely wounded and lost both his legs. He was awarded the Order of the Red Star. The author lives in Novosibirsk.
There was a white dome-shaped ceiling over him. His head was buzzing, creating some obscure vibrations in his body. First, the pulsations were felt in his legs and then unbearable pain engulfed his entire body. Convulsively, he pushed himself up on his elbows. Another spasm threw his head back onto the pillow but even the softness of the pillow could not ease the horror which swept over him when he saw what was in front of him.
He was struck not so much by the absence of his legs as by the shapes of the soldier's blanket which had been folded carefully to make an illusion of legs. The blanket was tucked in his bed and it was pulled back partially, to cover only what was left of the body of the wounded man after having been torn apart by the mine splinters. Below his thighs the blanket was untouched, with its folding having been shaped by helpful soldier's hands. It was the integrity of the blanket that defiantly showed its indifference to the event which had happened. Now he occupied only half the space he was supposed to. The boundary of this reality took place at his bleeding stumps.
He did not completely realize the position he was in and he continued to perceive the world in the light of his old feelings, which had not been destroyed by a new reality. His non-existent, amputated legs ached. He was not concerned about the holes in his arm and stomach. The only thought that periodically came into his confused head was "I am alive. What for?" Having tried to objectively evaluate everything that had happened to him, he attempted to find a way out of the situation he was in.
His life was divided into two parts - before and after. In his head these two parts of his life, like the pieces of a broken mosaic, collided and created the chaos of a coloured kaleidoscope, picturing events and people. There was nothing like this before, nothing that could help him to determine a new understanding of his life. He felt intuitively that all necessary knowledge and skills were inside him, but the blast of a damned mine had turned everything upside down.
Time was the only resource available to him from which he could derive all his tenacity. He felt that he was in the very centre of the crater formed by the explosion and that a swift stream of time was dragging him into it. Swirling life was piercing his body and brain, but without dragging him along. It was clearly evident to him, that life, like a swift mountain stream, was flowing around the barrier of unshakable solidity, and not able to destroy it. That solidity of his consciousness had become a thing of the past.
He felt like a grain of sand which had already fallen in the sandglass of his fate. The intensity of recent months meant that the inevitable event had to happen and it had indeed happened.
At this stage he belonged to the past completely, like that fallen grain. He was waiting for fate to turn his sandglass again. Not having developed new reasoning, he used the old one. It was based on the invaluable soldier's experience of survival, which had prompted common truth, and he could not abandon its practicality. He slowly extracted facts from the past and built a foundation from them; it was the pyramid base of his new consciousness.
Self-reliant and tough-minded as he was, seeing what happened to him as inevitable, was the way he faced his fate. He understood that any event was a matter of fortune, unforeseeable and unpredictable. But, continuing to analyze what had happened, he recognized that the course and spirit of the future were accidental, neither for the individual nor for the whole group. He came to the conclusion that, due to the free choices of individuals, such a course of events might, to tell the truth, either finish with a magnificent ending or create a risk of growing danger or death, but it could not be changed in meaning or direction.
A fact is something singular, something that was or will be in reality. The truth is something that does not need actual implementation in order to exist as a possibility. Fate is relevant to the facts. The truth is the connection between cause and action. Certainly, he knew it. That is why our life is connected with the facts, consists of the facts and is directed by the facts.
To learn something one needs time.
To become somebody one needs exactly this time.
..."If you follow the rules and the regulations, you will conquer and you will achieve honour and glory!" That was the message on the poster hanging on the wall opposite his bed. He fell asleep and woke up reading that slogan every day.
It was regular night drill. First, push-up and press-swing, then, gladiator fights and, finally, lights-out, like pipe dreams. Having gone mad because of fatigue and having dreamt about the possibility of sleeping no longer, he would stand and stare at the damned poster with the slogan in front of him.
"What are you thinking about, pal?" The sergeant's question brought him back to the barracks at the present. "If you follow the rules and the regulations, you will conquer and you will achieve honour and glory!"?- he shouted in response. The sergeant was looking into his eyes, rocking from heel to toe. "It is the easiest thing to do exactly what you are forced to do. It is more difficult to do the things you want to do, regardless of circumstances. That is why you should remember a simple rule, pal: `TO KNOW AND NOT TO ACT' IS SIMILAR TO `NOT KNOW'! YOU CANNOT KNOW BUT YOU MUST LEARN FAST!!! SO DO NOT THINK ABOUT IT, JUST DO IT!!!" Obviously, the sergeant was pleased with such an ending. And then there was a long-awaited command "Lights out, pals!".
It was evident that they would not be able to get sergeant's such knowledge without rising from the ranks, from cadet to sergeant. That process made it possible to educate soldiers in a grand style, so they could assess their inner abilities, set targets, be trained consciously as individuals, and who therefore were ready for critical challenges which were set on the basis of the facts of the sergeants' past life and not on the basis of some "ideal" abstractions of the regulations.
However, in order to do so well, it was necessary for them to have time and opportunity to learn new things. Moreover, these qualities were needed to acquire the strength necessary for the role. As soon as that strength had been acquired, the possibilities to use it appeared...
There were three months left until the end of the beginning...
If you see that the fight is useless you should fight with a doubled force.
...In any way, when they broke through to what was under the surface in life, he remembered what he had seen.
With tears all over their faces, covered with a thick layer of dust, two soldiers were not shy about their emotions. Taking turn, eight people were digging the foundation for a fence. It separated them from their friend who was wounded in the thigh and had fallen on the other side. Dukhs (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) were cutting them off with their fire, not giving any chance for the fence to be climbed over. The two who had tried to do it were injured. They threw the grenades. Using AGS (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor), they tried to support their wounded friend who was returning fire to the approaching ghosts. Men were following the fence with all that was in their hands.
He was amazed to see the kind of work they had managed to do; almost with bare hands, they had managed literally to gnaw through the fence.
When the hole in the fence base had exposed them, their friend was wounded in the right shoulder. Bleeding, losing consciousness, suffering an unbearable pain, the wounded man blew himself up with a grenade, the intensity too great. Having seen the futility of their attempts to take him alive, the ghosts retreated.
Even though they did not know if he was still alive, they were digging this hole. Their friend's survival had lacked eight minutes. Five minutes after the grenade explosion the ghosts brought back the encirclement. Eight minutes after the grenade explosion the soldiers punched another hole in the fence base. Five minutes later another group joined them.
Now the two soldiers who had punched that hole were crying like children, unable to hide their emotions. Nevertheless, they dragged the unresponsive body of their friend into the damned hole, not recognizing the senselessness of it...
Lying in the hospital bed, he began to understand that the time of death entirely depended on how and when the vital force of a person was struck down. He saw that severe trauma could kill a person instantly, while others wounds, with less impact on a human, could cause dementia, loss of self-control, or disorganization of the will.
"To live, to live and TO LIVE must be the only inflexible decision." In this sense he understood what had happened back then.
However, before equilibrium can be restored, it will initially be broken. And there will always be someone who will be the first.
"Now the most important thing is for you to learn to live without legs,"?- said the surgeon, patting his shoulder encouragingly, when the bandages had been removed and his lungs had been exhausted from screaming. He understood that he had been the first.
The vast country was able to allocate very few resources for social rehabilitation. The reason was not lack of the resources, but lack of purpose. That is why it was not a priority.
It was the amputation (through the war) of opportunities for the wounded which transformed a human into his direct opposite. "Limiting manipulations" are cost-economical and very effective. The government knew it very well. What was the result of this amputation of opportunities? It gave the government the antithesis of a man, who had been sent to war.
Shortchanging the men in such a way, the state was able to manipulate them by means of benefits, after having deprived them of their own capabilities and goals. The goal is always inseparable from the instruments which are used to achieve it: each goal corresponds to the instrument and each instrument corresponds to the achieved goal. Now he had only one goal and the only instrument to achieve it - his prostheses as a symbol of human pain and patience. He understood that his life was just many, many days in which the pain would turn into infinity. When so much has been lost, try harder. If you do not know what to do, take a step forward. The war will show the plan; the main thing is to get into a fight, and then we will see!
"Fish wins tactically when it feels the taste of the worm, but loses strategically having been hooked". (Haiku). "Never enter into the struggle that is imposed on you by your enemy; it is better to retreat in time rather than to step over your own dead body later." (The prose of life).
The easiest day...
White walls, white sheets. Peace and quiet. He was dreaming about it during all his military service. Now he perceived these things quite differently.
The battalion commander sat nearby. The deputy commander in charge of policy, who had come with the battalion commander, brought a new parade uniform along with a vest, beret, insignia, two rucksacks filled with Kandahar pomegranates, figs, apples, and "CC" lemonade. "There are 500 cheques in the package. This is a gift from the battalion for you when you will be discharged from the hospital", - the battalion commander said, putting a simple soldier's envelope on the pillow. "What are you going to do in civil life, son?" the battalion commander asked. Trying to look confident, he could think of nothing, but answered: "I will make stools and sell them in the market." Burning pain in his legs went to his confused head. The battalion commander abruptly raised the sheet which was wrapped around his foreshortened body and said: "If I learn that you are good-for-nothing in civil life, sergeant, I will come and kill you myself. Do you see? Remember my son, yesterday was the easiest day! Now is the beginning of a real war in your life..."
A plane was to arrive in the morning. The company personnel have already stocked him up and covered his stomach and arm with bandages. The battalion commander and the deputy commander in charge of policy have just left him.
He did not realize completely the current situation, continuing to perceive the world in a light of old sensations before having been destroyed by new realities. Non-existent amputated legs hurt. The holes in his arm and stomach did not trouble him. In his contused head one single thought periodically surfaced: " Yesterday was the easiest day, indeed!"
To be honest, I don't know how to put the whole story across to you. It started seventeen years ago. "Soul" was his nickname and I found it a good "moniker". This story will make you sure of it - though it is hard for me to relate the story by strictly keeping to its chronology, I will try to tell you what really happened.
The list of various wounds and severe injuries which one could easily get, without leaving the brigade's position, could cover many more pages than my story. It was possible to get into the most unbelievable situation if you were not a sissy boy; it was quite possible to live through it and to cope with it.
Soul always landed on his feet. One of his funniest qualities he had, was an amazing pantophagy (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) : he could eat literally everything that grew on the land, and it was very difficult to define the basis of his rations. There was one more quality which distinguished Soul from the rest - his unusual flexibility, the ability to adjust to any conditions, any difficulties.
I clearly remember that operation.
It was a good warm night for ambushes - with moonlight and gentle contours, dark enough to be concealed and bright enough to differentiate all the shadows, pits and bumps on the ground, which still retained the warmth of a July day. That night had a lesson in store for us. A dream embraces a tired person at night, so that he does not even notice it. With wide open eyes, we slipped into oblivion for a while, during which time we continued walking mechanically, but with our attention switched off. Such fatigue is a usual phenomenon for drivers, so there is nothing attractive in night driving, especially along impassable roads. Driven by some power, we thought that we were flying between heaven and earth, now and then almost running into APCs (see "Terminology and Glosssary"?- Editor).
Everything happened at lightning speed, before I knew where I was. Spotting with a night vision device a huge hole about fifty meters ahead on the route, which was filled with moonlight shadow, our driver slammed on the brakes. At a speed of forty kilometers per hour, we almost fell into it. Soul fell from the APC at the moment of that sudden stop. Like a soccer ball, he easily flew over the hood of the carrier. One could say he was lucky; he escaped with bruises and scratches. But you should have seen the face of our sergeant, Beck. To tell the truth, we knew full well what Beck was about to say at that moment. "To kill you now or to give you another chance?". His eyes were gleaming with a mixture of pretend violence and crafty goodness. It was Beck's catchphrase. In fact, he remained indifferent to the successful landing of Soul. The APC was jammed with ammunition. The boys on board froze at his every word - all these belonged to him, he was like an owner of this boundless sandy beach without any sea.
Being slightly disoriented from the two hour drive in a completely unfamiliar area, we were staring at Soul - indeed, he seemed to be the reason we stopped. Tattered, covered with dust, he was nervously adjusting his famous sun-hat, where the well known to everybody in the company Russian word "DUSHA" was written with a bleaching powder referring to a diminutive derivative of "Dusha" from his name. A round head with a face similar to young Lenin from the October badge was looking up from under this sun-hat.
Apart from the sun-hat, another distinguishing feature of Soul was his eyes, always wide-open, emitting a sincere child's interest in everything happening around. His ingeniousness just killed us now and then. He could do almost everything without having a clue how something should be done. He could live quietly with minimum knowledge about the laws of the surrounding world.
To survive in Afghan, a person has to arm himself with the patience of an angel. I had been trained already in this regard, but sometimes anxiety gripped me. Soul is another matter; he treated everything that was happening to him as if it were not his life, but a rehearsal. It seemed that he was just storing the received skills in order to use them one day, when it was time for real life.
The fall from the APC was not the most terrible ordeal for him. During those nine months which he had spent with the division, he had lived through almost everything. Three factors always helped him: luck, occasion and flair. Now for sure this flair was whispering: "Calm down, do not hurry".
I was sitting on the bonnet of the truck; all the others were standing in a semicircle at some distance from Beck, representing a living decoration for the action that was about to happen, or perhaps shielding this ridiculous scene from any casual viewer. Beck examined Soul from top to toe with that weird look of his which I hated so much. What was to follow was a regular scenario with a rare innovation. I felt sick. "Just do not say..."the helmet" ", - I was begging Beck in my mind.
"Put on the helmet",- said Beck, almost whispering. Nothing could force Soul to not blindly obey the order. He was so spoiled by his luck that he could not understand why he was given that order. More than once he had to stand like this in front of the sergeant. In his understanding, he had no reason to hurry, and in general, he just carried out his duty. But I am sure that from gradual awareness of what was happening, he felt much worse after the fall. Beck returned to the carrier and took the grenade thrower's cartridge. Soul did not watch his step: his eyes filled with alarm; he was riveted to the RPG (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) in Beck's hands.
It was like a shot. With all his might Beck hit the helmet on Soul's head with the cartridge. Soul managed to keep his balance although his face was twisted with pain. But in a second he fell to the ground, without making a sound. Those who surrounded him kept silent. Soul quickly came to himself and with a thoughtful look, which conveyed his agony, followed our reaction.
The dembels (see "Terminology and Glosssary"?- Editor) were climbing on the armored vehicle one by one - the punishment was over.
"So, what now?"- I asked Beck, after we pulled Soul inside the troop-carrier. He made no reply; having pushed me away with his shoulder, he threw his body on the weaponry with a powerful jerk. I noticed that he was sullen, as before. Why was he like that, while all the others were filled with fear and disapproval of his deed? Sometimes it was hard to understand Beck, and now was a time when it was better to leave him alone. "Well, you never can tell. The night is not over yet", he noted dryly, when I took my place next to him. At that moment each of us was lost in our own thoughts.
Many boarding houses make preparations beforehand for the "Afghans" who are arriving. Before their arrival, the administration puts the place in order: the new cushioned furniture is hidden in the storerooms; its place is taken by old sofas, battered chairs and tables. All carpets and table lamps are removed. The staff is instructed in case of emergencies. And then comes the long-awaited day of arrival of the "Afghans", who, accompanied by an easily recognizable sound of the clinking of glasses, arrive in a dignified manner, sedately carrying the weight of state awards and benefits. Unlucky old-aged veterans, not knowing what to expect, find themselves in the situation of hiding in their rooms as the only way to get through this horror invasion.
By the evening a boarding house turns into an arena of military operations, the base of crash courses in survival. Along the corridors, with a wild noise and a sound of prostheses and crutches, the troops are rushing to and fro: people unite in groups according to their divisions, regiments, and brigades, and provinces where they had served, according to their participation in joint operations, according to hospitals, according to the nature of their wounds, and finally, according to groups of disability. If you go through the floors, you can see people hugging and kissing in lobbies and bars. The meetings are celebrated in every room: you can open any door without knocking, and everyone will be pleased to pour you a glass or two, sincerely offering to share the joy of meeting with a brother-soldier.
The next morning, before you can open your eyes, you are horrified to think of a long and painful return to the interrupted conversation with new and old friends you were socializing with the day before; and having being buried in a pillow, you begin to listen to steps in the corridor. Sometimes you just have to say to yourself: "Enough of that! Go to hell!" You want to shut yourself in the room and do something enjoyable, for instance - to read, listen to music and at last to dream. It is quite possible that in an hour you will be lucky enough to fall asleep, and in a few days you will escape from this hell and forget your friends of the nights.However, the lucky ones are few. In most cases, the struggle is prolonged, because it is not so easy to get rid of awakened memories. Insomnia itself is not as terrible as the memories associated with it and as a result, "war cartoons": nightmares. You are calmed down by only one thing: you are not alone in your torments.
If you come here and concentrate only on this, you can lose your good health in a short time. Let us say, the question for me is not idleness. One day as part of one of those "landings" I happened to be in a boarding house not far from Moscow. Having dived head first into the above-described atmosphere that reigned in a decent society of serious people for those who came here to be treated for injuries and to be returned to a normal condition, I found myself not ready to face my past.
The main responsibility of the administration was to make patients feel relaxed and rested, so that life became a bed of roses starting from the very first day. Well, we came here because we wanted to be well. The sharing of "war cartoons" was an unspoken taboo. It was important to not stand out from the normal rhythm of life and to not avoid one's familiar circle of friends. I had already known that those people who recovered faster helped others who were struggling in a similar situation. Therefore, there was one fellow I chose for my own course of treatment.
He looked so skinny. He was dressed in a plain tracksuit, which together with his jeans made up his entire wardrobe. The impression of gauntness was enhanced by his seemingly external inaccessibility. This fellow obviously had not managed to objectively assess his budget for the rest of period, having brought here just what was left from his monthly salary or pension. A couple of times I tried to approach him, taking a seat next to him, but he showed a demonstrable independence. It is quite common behavior of those who have been faced with mockery and undeserved reproaches from relatives and loved ones. Most likely he had his own reasons for becoming an "iron man", and one day he had made a decision about living as courageously as possible.
But still, it was not difficult for me to draw him out. As soon as it became clear that we had been in the same brigade for the same years, I asked him umpteen questions about things that were hard not know if he was really there at that time. His sluggish, vague answers disappointed me and settled doubts in me as to their veracity. He remembered the location of the military unit, knew some details from brigade life, but he absolutely did not remember the people with whom he had said he had shared the difficulties of service. Apparently, hoping somehow to justify his strange forgetfulness, he started to tell something about his life. His speech was incoherent, and his diction left much to be desired.
Having armed myself with patience, I listened to his story. He used to be a soldier, but he was wounded and a couple of years after that he developed a strange disease. He began to lose weight; his memory, hearing and sight began to worsen. And then it got even worse: there were problems with his right foot. Strange bouts of pain in his back began to bother him, after which his foot completely failed. He married a woman with a child. The boy did not consider him as a father, he despised him for his weakness. The problems with his head prevented him from staying on a well-paid job and he started repairing TVs at home, but the number of orders was constantly decreasing. He had to now come here for his health.
Understanding the problem and trying to be an attentive listener, I asked politely about his wound. His answer disappointed me completely. "Grenade struck my head", he said. If I had not known people with similar wounds, I might have believed him. But he did not know where to draw the line. Continuing to listen to his story, I involuntarily began to overhear a conversation the next table, where the helicopter pilots were sitting. The familiar word "Kalat" in their conversation made me strain my ears.
"When we had flown there, they were already being pelted with launchers. The tank and the APC were already burning. We just made a couple of sorties, and there was already a commander with a launcher-wound in his head. They all were screaming on the "Romashka", demanding evacuation. I looked down: they were under fire, the "box" was burning, and they were like mice thrashing about in a ditch!" For the first time I heard the impressions of a man who had taken a detached view of a battle in which I had also taken part: the comparison with mice shocked me; you could have knocked me down with a feather.
By noon the next day we were trapped.
After receiving an order, our team, consisting of two incomplete platoons, left the zone of ambush actions in three cars and went down to a concrete road. We had to go as a patrol accompanied by a column that was carrying cotton from India. Outpacing the column, we moved close to a Afghan tank, which had been given to us for support. The Afghan commando unit was reinforced by the fourth company of our battalion.
The commander said: "Halt!". We stopped. At the head of the patrol there was a tank and after it you could see our three "boxes".
A small village was divided into two parts by the concrete road 500 meters away. There was an irrigation ditch on the left, with two dryers on the left, and on the right there was a garden, surrounded by a heavy adobe wall. The concrete road led to a blown-up bridge. The silence was alarming.
The patrol team was on the dirt road. The steep slope of the hill met the blade of the concrete road and limited our maneuvering to the left. A deep ditch was at our right, and behind it, there were deep ravines that went down to the river valley. Our position was not the best. The commander had already decided to send one carrier ahead to gain a dominant position at the top of the hill.
But as soon as our APC had moved to the tank that gave way to us, a launcher hit from the nearest ravine on the right. The fire stream pierced the armour of the tank between its wheels. The stored ammunition exploded immediately. The multi-ton bulky machine jumped on the spot. The turret jerked and slowly rode up. The pillar of flame broke away from the open-top hatch and the gunner, who was sitting behind the machine-gun, was thrown out on the burning concrete road.
It seemed to me that the gunner's flight lasted endlessly and in absolute silence. The world and time itself gave way to the triumph of death. Perhaps due to the effect of dopamine, which rushed into my blood, everything that was going on around suddenly was filled with its own rhythm and started to live its own life. In fact, the world broke down into many event-fragments, each of which consisted of a pause, in order to give the body an opportunity to react, and for the brain to become aware of what was happening...
... A bearded man in a waistcoat is slowly emerging from the ditch and then, in cold blood, he fired a short round at the writhing, burning Afghan man. On the right, a hundred meters from us, profiting from our confusion, four mujahedeen ( see " Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) ran across the road to the ravines carrying guns. On my left Soul was trying to untie the knapsack full of grenades and their fuses. His hands were shaking, his lips were firmly set, and his eyes were fixed on the mujahedeen running across the road. He did not notice the loud pings of bullets striking the concrete road which ricocheted in his direction. Completely at a loss, I was hiding behind the armour of our APC. The tank exploded five meters away from it. I was on the armour, when the blast wave shook the machine frame, and it was strong enough to blow me off instantly.
Only when I felt a violent stream of air whistling out of a tire punctured by a bullet, did my wits came back to me and I woke up, conscious of the familiar sounds of chaos; and events began to turn at an immense speed.
Our carrier received two grenade hits within fifteen minutes. The first shot hit the spare wheel on the turret, wounding the gunner and the driver. The gunner fell out of the carrier through the side hatch. The driver, trying to direct the carrier away from the destroyed tank, began to zigzag to the narrow traffic lane of the concrete road, wisely keeping away from the mined track. The mujahedeen had come so close that we were throwing grenades like stones at each other. Tension in this battle was so high that fairly often from both sides un-cocked grenades flew: they were gathered up, the pins were pulled out and all of them were returned to the owners.
The only protection from bullets and bullet splinters were immovable APCs on the road which were abandoned by us. The close proximity of the enemy made their large-caliber machine-guns useless. In this cocktail of screams, shots and grenade explosions, the commander made an attempt to get into the carrier to help the shell-shocked driver, whose position inside prevented us from being able to hide behind its armour. All our attempts to stop the convulsive movement of the heavy eight-wheeled frame with the butts of rifles on the armour and our shouting yielded no results. Hardly had the commander put his hands over the hatch's clamp, when the second fatal grenade shot resounded.
I was there; I just heard a loud clap. Then the five-meter APC's trunk jerked and almost simultaneously the armour cracked like an eggshell and hit the company commander head. His powerful, well-muscled body was tossed into the ditch, straight to Soul's feet. By this time Soul's face became so inflated, that his head seemed twice as large.
The commander was thrashing about the ground, shaking his head so that the ingot had turned into a solid blood clot with hair clumps and only one miraculously saved eye with a furiously rotating pupil. That was horrible! At such moments a man is guided by his instincts rather than by his mind. Soul rushed at the commander, pressing him down with his body, while the others were frozen as if turned into stone. The commander, trying to get rid of Soul, was shaking his smashed head from side to side. We finally managed to bandage his head, but I do not know how. Somebody was vomiting nearby. The battle continued.
The carrier took fire - the red-hot fragments set aflame the barricade we had made out of mattresses on the zinc ammunition load. There was a wounded driver enveloped in pungent smoke in the vehicle's interior. In a couple of minutes the ammunition load would detonate. While we, being busy with the commander and regrouping, were running between cars and creeping over the ditch, Soul had pulled out the driver who was riddled with splinters and, ignoring the shelling, covered the fire in the carrier with sand.
After the commander and the driver had been evacuated, Beck took command. We got to know on the jabbering walkie-talkie that the commander died aboard the helicopter.
The back-up arrived astonishingly fast. Our battalion, consisting of two platoons and the fourth company that joined us, with the support of Afghan commandos and two undamaged tanks, made the mujahedeens retreat to alternate positions prepared beforehand. Having organized the all-round defense, we decided to take the initiative in the battle.
The garden surrounded by the heavy adobe wall, the concrete bridge blown up at the end of the kishlak (see "Terminology and Glassary"?- Editor), the narrow concrete road with the disabled, burned tank,- all of these came together in the bright and smooth color of a sunset. We decided to dislodge the enemy from his positions with a bold attack. The commandos went in the center of the attacking line, and two of our platoons were on the flanks. The fourth company was preparing r the attack at the garden. The sun went downrapidly, leaving us no time to adjust our strategy.
The attack misfired. The commandos fell back, taking with them two dead and three wounded fighters. We retreated too, not having managed to make it to the right flank of the enemy. Our flimsy advantage was destroyed by the enemy's heavy-caliber machine gun, which came from the left flank.
During the roll call after the failed attack, we learned that Beck and Soul, who with their group had attacked the left flank from where the mujahedeen's machine-gun had rained us with fire, had gone.
We had to report that to the battalion commander.
- "Hectare-4, Hectare-4.This is Mars. Do you copy? Over"
- "Mars, Mars, This is Hectare-4, read you. I'm in the last position on the enemy's left flank. We are ready to attack. Over",- Beck reported the situation calmly.
- "Hectare-4.This is Mars. You are ready to support the attack. Roger that. How many of you are there, son? Over". The commander was definitely trying to make sense of the current situation.
- "Mars, This is Hectare-4. There are two of us here, just two; we grabbed our "samovar" ( see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor). Ready to support the attack with fire", it was obvious that Beck was flying into a rage.
The commander made a decision.
- "Calm down, son. `Elephants' (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) are going to strike from two barrels. Try to adjust the fire. Over". We passed "Get ready to attack" down the line.
It was beautiful. In gathering dusk two tanks at great speed, simultaneously turning around, lept out into the position for the straight shot. Just the look of their maneuver made our hearts beat faster, the dose of adrenalin made our knees tremble and our heads spin. The tanks stopped sharply, and at the same time, seemingly without preparation, fired a volley towards the left flank. A cloud of dense dust, almost black in the coming dusk, covered the enemy. At this moment the walkie-talkie began to speak with Soul's stammering voice: "М-а-а-r-s, М-а-а-а-r-s, th-i-s i-s S-o-u-l.. Shots landed 15 meters from us. Sergeant is wounded. Th-i-si-s S-o-u-l, over!" Everybody froze, waiting for the command. "Calm down, son, no shots anymore. Support the attack, over!" we could sense in the commander's voice a note of suppressed laugher. Then there was a command "Forward!". Almost in full darkness, torn by our tracing fire, we rushed in silence upon the mujahedeen's positions. The machine gun opened from the left flank, but Soul covered us. The mujahedeen abandoned their position and retreated with no resistance.
"That's the place!". At the next table, breaking the taboo, helicopter pilots bent over the map which had been taken by someone. Without ceremony I interrupted the man I was talking with, and approached their table. Now, so many years after the company commander's death, I felt tears welling up in my eyes, but I was not ashamed of them. "That's the place,"- I said to myself after twelve years - "look, here's the place where I was shot in my head by a grenade launcher". Suddenly, my companion stabbed his finger right at the point our group had passed just twenty-four hours before the mujahedeen's ambush!
"Hey, man, give me more details about the grenade launcher's attack on your head. " I finally began to grasp the meaning of what was going on. "That was the sergeant who gave me a punch with the grenade launcher,"?- he said, looking at me with the eyes of an old sick and tired man.
"Soul, is this you? That's impossible!" I realized I had repeated these words already a few times, feeling utter disbelief. Some onlookers formed a group around us.
"Yes, I'm Soul. I am Soul!" This thin, exhausted man wept like a child.
We dislodged the mujahedeen with an impetuous push, grabbed their position and combed the garden in the complete dark. Nearly without losses?- two men from the fourth company were wounded and one was killed. We bumped into Soul when he was carrying Beck to our position. Beck shook his head, covered with flour-like dust, and moaned. It was dark and we were blinded because of flashes from our guns; but it was impossible not to notice a mad glint in Soul's eyes and a shiny white smile on his swollen and heavily bruised face. He stammered and shivered from head to foot, but his enviable health had let him hold out till the end of the battle.
Later on, the grenade launcher's hit on our carrier was officially seen as the cause of Souls' trauma. His report to the commander became a joke and turned him into a brigade legend. He was awarded the rank of sergeant and was recognized as an equal among experienced soldiers. With the natural chronometer in his head turned off by by Beck's blow, his world had became frozen, giving him his own particular rhythm in life.
Beck was transferred to the reserve in the Soviet Union, and he never came back to us.
The commander was posthumously awarded the "Order of Wartime Red Banner", although he was recommended for the "Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union".
Five men in the company were awarded the "Red Star" for that battle: Soul, the wounded driver and Beck among them. Seven others were awarded the "Medal for Bravery".
The day before my departure I prepared presents for Soul, having shown great diligence and care in their choice. He had become a kind of special person to me. I had become attached to him, spending all my free time with him, describing, at his request, different events of our friendship. I wanted to say goodbye to Soul before the departure, and I was going to invite him for dinner. I felt sad - I was short of parting words.
The receptionist, who always knew everything in the boarding house, stopped me:
- Sorry, but he left. He checked out of his room, packed and left.
- I saw him an hour ago, and we arranged the meeting.
- Are you from Room 301? He asked me to hand over an envelope to you.
Taking the envelope, I went back to my room. I found a photo inside. It was a picture of our company, all together in our smoking-room. There was a little question mark above almost everyone's head, put by Soul's hand. But the marks above my head, the heads of the commander, Beck and Soul himself were crossed out. On the back side there was a recent inscription: "If I forget you - forget me".
And finally I got it. He said no good-byes, while expressing so much at the same time. For Soul the picture was a symbol of his lost past, and the search for it made sense of his life. Slowly, piece by piece, he collected a mosaic of fragmentary memories, patching the flaws created in his mind by war. Memory about the past was disappearing, but my stories about it helped him to clarify the present.
His life was arranged as a game, in which the war set terms for several figures on the playing board. A figure continued to live, to participate in the game, if there were at least two or three other ones next to it. If there were fewer of them, the figure would die because of solitude. If there were more, it would die because of the overcrowded board. And another move, which could give some sense to the present figure's state, was possible only for a few, limited to three sides of the square. Before time stopped for Soul, the figures of Beck and the commander were swept off the board, although they were the ones that marked his position on it.
Soul was slowly dying until I filled empty squares around him, giving us a chance to continue his violent game. And, in reward for this, having sensed my pre-farewell embarrassment and all I suffered at that moment, he left my life in the same manner he came into it: occasionally, and all of a sudden.
All of this going back in time tired me. I suddenly woke up with the feeling that there was someone next to me. I quickly turned on the light, but there was no one in the room. I was not able to fall asleep again: the fever of memories held me captive again.
"Hello, my dear brother,
As I promised, I am writing this letter to you to let you know that I am okay. I do not work but receive my pension. My health is not failing me so far..."
The page with squared lines from a student's notebook was covered with child-like letters: some letters were big, some were uneven and roundish, but it seemed all of them accumulated energy and diligence in each stroke of the author's pen. I wanted to see who was the author, but forgot where I placed the envelope; and the sender's name was also absent in the end of the letter. The author of this letter was definitely relying on my memory, but... after some guesses as to his identity, I decided that the author eventually might turn up in my life some day; this is why the letter was placed in a drawer of my desk.
A week later, my life had a rapid turn. Then every 3-4 months, I had several unexpected transformations in my life resulting in changes to addresses and places to live. This letter followed me in all the changes that occurred in my life, moving from one notebook to another until it found its rest in a folder with my personal documents, adding another puzzle for my memory.
Now, five years later, flipping through the pages of my diaries and looking at documents, I unexpectedly remembered the sender. My memory had played a cruel joke with me- I should have immediately guessed who was the author of this letter.
Feverishly scanning the page written in unsettled childishly looking handwriting, I scold myself for the impassiveness with which this little message from the past was treated. I was still hoping to find an address...
...It is Sunday, November 20, 1983, Leningrad, 442nd District Clinical Military Hospital. Our ward has only a window from which we see a trolleybus stop and some part of the street's intersection.
Looking at us through the window, the peaceful bustle of Suvorovsky Prospekt, with its 3 colored traffic lights and the hissing doors of trolley buses, drives us mad with its inaccessibility for us.
Our ward looks like a pencil case with six people in it. We all ended up here after flying from one district hospital to another, we arrived in the same airplane - it was the flight from Tashkent.
Between us - six people in the ward- we have only one set of legs: Sanych- the ensign of the 345th separate parachute Bagram regiment - has the right leg, and Boris- a young lieutenant from Kunduz - has the left one.
The four other patients are not mobile. Two of us - Serega and myself from 177th regiment - have no legs. The third one - Lesha from the 180th regiment - can move only his head because everything else is encased in a plaster cast. The fourth one -Vitya from Anava - has no problems with his legs, but has big troubles with his hands and head - this is why we do not consider him as a walking man. So, this is a valuation of the "healthy" people in our ward...
Yesterday Was the Easiest Day!