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Mironov Vyacheslav
One day in darkness

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   It is all dark. Blackness is around me. I wake up and lay for a while trying to figure out what is going on. I hear voices, then realize I don't see anything, it is all the same... Lately I keep having dreams about being buried alive. I am moving frantically up and forward...
   I wake up in a sweat, but there is no difference - blackness is all around me.
   Man can wear a black bandage on his eyes and walk in his home or street with stretched hands bumping into the corners and objects. But he knows that the second he takes off this bandage he will live a normal life again. Normal. And I?
   And I got caught, I got it hot...
   Three months ago we were "cleaning up" a village... It was good back during the first war in Chechnya. As the guys who fought there told us, before entering an abandoned home they would throw a grenade in and sometimes even two. And what now?
   You kick the door down and then burst into the room with your partners. There used to be four of us, but Dimas Zolotuhin got hit and we just the three of us remained. It was me who would kick down the doors. Dimon "Zoloto" was the sturdiest guy and that's why he was doing it. I was the next one in terms of height and weight... Now Timofeev ("Timoha") must have taken my place. And I am here with a bandage on my head.
   I don't remember anything. I just kicked the door with all my strength. It burst open and I am going forward and the only thing I remember is this bright flash on the side, the left side, I did not see anything brighter. DID NOT SEE!!! And darkness, and blackness...
   I don't remember pain or anything; just the blackness. The doctor told me they operated four times on my brain. And moved me from hospital to hospital. Now I am in Moscow. But what's the use?
   A few days ago I had more surgery. I don't know how many days and nights I have been like this. They are all alike, all black.
   I lost a piece of skull a long time ago. I've got the skin, but no bone. I touch the skin. It is sagging in; it feels as if I can touch my brain. I don't see but feel how under this skin, in an area the size of a palm, something is pulsing and breathing, something is happening. This is my brain that is suffering without information supplied through the eyes. And this brain sometimes thinks maybe it is time to croak.
   And why a life like this? What for?!
   I was born in Kemerovo, and close to the place I lived there is a plant for the blind. I used to watch these men and women going to work and back home, knocking in front of them with the help of white sticks. They were good at it, knocking on the sidewalk really fast. And there was also a traffic light for pedestrians. You pushed the button and the traffic light would start making a nasty sound - that was how it went from red to amber. Then it would make another sound - that was green for the pedestrians. The sound was sharp and high-pitched, abrupt like barking, just amplified tens of times.
   "Bow-Wow!" - stand still! "Bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow!" one-two, left, left, left, move it! Scary. I am just nineteen. I am blind! The doctor doesn't say anything for a while; he is sniffing before answering whether I can see the light again. And his answer is mockery. "We'll see!" It is him, bitch, who can see, and what about me?!
   I am smoking. They walked me to the window, put a cigarette in my hands. I can't even smoke now. I don't see the smoke. I just can't see it. There is no pleasure from the cigarette. The taste and smell are there, but I don't see what I am doing.
   I am stretching my hand toward the window. Bars. I touch them for a while. They are tracery, some leaves, must be pretty. But head and body will not go through.
   There are twelve men in my ward. As they say, "pierced", "turretless", the "psychos". This is how they call those wounded in the head. I am the only blind. They are here for a long time, for a few months. About a month and half ago they discharged a sergeant, his eye didn't see. They saved his eye. The guy wears glasses, but as they said, he can see.
   And what about me? All my life I liked working with cars. First with grandfather with his "One" model, then with father with his "Nine". And I studied to be a car mechanic. I thought that in the army I would be in the maintenance troops. And what now? Why do I need all this knowledge now? What for?
   When my parents learnt that I had been wounded, Dad sold his, our, "Nine" -- I knew it inside out -- so mother could come to me in Rostov.
   She bought me juice, lived in a hotel, and fed me things I always loved. I ate, but couldn't see what I was eating. I would say it was tasty and when she left I would cry into the pillow and give the guys in the ward everything she had left me. I cannot eat the food if I cannot see it. I just can't.
   It was mother who convinced the medics to send me to Moscow. They gave up on me.
   She moved to Moscow. When they started preparing me for the surgery, she went back home. The money had run out. Father sold anything that could be sold and sent us the money. He sold the dacha, the garage, all the tools and machinery that we had in the garage.
   Tools... I remember how father and grandpa taught me to care for the tools. Father did not spend all his savings on beers like his friends, but instead he used to buy wrenches and machine tools. Together we restored a lathe, a milling machine, a drilling machine.
   Father and grandpa used to say: "Love and take care of your tools and they will take care of you". And I did take care. When I graduated from vocational school father and grandpa presented me with a set of adjustable wrenches. I had seen it in a shop and had an eye on it for a long time. It was a dream. All packed, shiny heads, lifetime warranty and it cost eight thousand!
   Father wrote letters. I remember his clumsy lines. He has work-hardened hands that are not used to holding a pen and he had just four years of education. There was no time for education after the war - he began work at a plant as a mechanic.
   We spent all our time in the garage and all the men from the neighbourhood used to come to us for help. then we got regular customers. I had money. I had a girlfriend too. Who would want me blind now?
   Father had a dream that when I returned from the army, we would open our own garage, our own business. Father and son! We would divide the income equally.
   Dad wrote that he sold all the tools except my adjustable wrench set. He asked if he could use it to repair cars. He wrote he would pay whatever it took to make me better. And then we would earn it all back.
   Go ahead and work, Dad. I am going to have a different set of tools. Screwdrivers and pliers. I am going to assemble plugs, sockets and switches in a workshop for the blind...
   And I like cars so much!
   Memory is all I have left for images. I have dreams. I can see in my dreams. The dreams now become bright and rich. I can see in my dreams. I often confuse dreams with reality.
   There is immediate and distant memory. Immediate memory is what happened to me recently. Chechnya. Four months in Chechnya.
   Distant memory is all I had before Chechnya.
   Sometimes it looks to me that whatever happened before my war was just a dream. And there it was life. But for me, life before the war and the war itself are both over. Now I am out of time, now I am out of war, out of life...
   Guys in my ward told me I would be getting twelve hundred roubles as a pension. Two months before I got drafted I bought myself a pair of jeans on the money I earned. They cost seventeen hundred. I will be getting less. Well, who cares about this money? Had I had my eyes I would earn it. Why do I need it now? To give it to mother so she can pay for the apartment. And what is next? I am alive as long as my parents are alive. What is next? Death is what is next. I might as well do it now. at nineteen years of age I don't want to become a burden for my parents.
   Who is to blame that I became a cripple? Who?! Not me!
   People from the military enlistment office sent me to the army. They also casually mentioned that the time of service would not be included in my work record. This fucking state thinks I owe it something, yet they don't see fit to put a stamp in my work records. Bitches! I HATE this state!
   I hate the Chechens! Hate them! It is because of them I became blind! Because of them and some jerks in Moscow. They didn't share something and here I am lying blind on a bed in their Moscow!
   There is a Muscovite here in the ward who was also hit in the head. He also swears at all politicians and officials that sit in his native city. These officials and politicians behave like invaders, like occupiers. They don't give a damn for the Motherland. They would rather live abroad. There are doctors there. There is care!
   A psychologist comes over periodically. He talks to everyone in rotation.
   Once he tried to talk to me as well... I told him everything I thought on the subject. I didn't see his mug but realized he was shocked. He tried to make me change my mind. What does this major know about life?! He hasn't been to war. He has never been under fire. All his life he spent in Moscow, all clean, a little angel, damn it! And this freak is trying to tell me I need to accept this blackness! I will never accept it.
   I must have woken up before reveille. There are no eyes, there is no sense of time. I can hear in the corridor: " Reveille! Reveille! Wash up! Don't be late for breakfast!"
   At first I had big problems with eating. How to eat? This is very difficult when you don't see the plate and what exactly you are eating.
   There was a schmuck in Rostov who played a trick on me. He thought it was really funny when a person cannot see what he is eating. And when I was eating soup, he would gently move the plate to the side and laughing at me hitting the table with the spoon.
   I could hear him grunting over his trick. Everybody from the ward would go to the dining room, but there was someone on duty to help the bed patients and cripples like me to eat.
   I couldn't stand it and jumped. Fury was roaring in my head. I hated this fat bastard, I felt him. But I couldn't see him. I wanted to kill him.
   But what can a blind do? The fat-ass laughed running away from me in the ward. I was throwing at him anything I could find, but it was no use.
   Two bed patients were yelling, telling me where to go or throw objects. I threw things but was bumping into chairs, beds and stuff I threw earlier. I fell on the floor twice. I stretched out my hands trying to cover my head.
   All I wanted was just to catch the fat bastard and strangle him. All my resentment and hatred shaped into one desire to kill.
   For me he was worse than the Chechens, worse then a Moscow politician, he was my evil.
   They ran into the ward after hearing all the crashes and the noise.
   The scum tried to set me up as if I had "gone cuckoo", but the guys who were laying in beds told them what had really happened.
   He was discharged the next day for "breach of hospital policies". The guys from our ward who could walk gave him some "night treatment".
   At night they threw a blanket on him and beat him. I heard him getting hit and he was snivelling and whining. Little punk.
   They helped me to stand up from my bed and walked me over to the bed of my offender. They put a stool in my hands, I hit him three times with all my heart.
   It felt easier then and even now when I recall it.
   They told me there was an inspection in the unit where this asshole served, so he tried to fake sickness. Not for long.
   It is very difficult to go to the toilet and wash. I learnt who many steps it takes from the ward to the toilet.
   Many times when I went to the toilet, someone from the ward would follow me and go to have a smoke. They could have smoked in the ward. The doctors didn't care so long as people didn't smoke before the ward round and puffed out the window. But when I went to the toilet someone would always follow me. To have a smoke in the toilet. I was grateful to them, but I hate it when people pity me.
   And I don't want to walk the street and feel their compassionate looks. I hate it and don't want it. I learnt to feel it with my skin.
   I am tired of hatred, I am tired of living. If it wasn't for a small hope that I could be healed, I would have put an end to living long time ago.
   They told me that I will be examined by an academician soon. It is good when someone has a broken hand, leg or rib. One can get it x-rayed, stretched or something. But head? Nobody knows how it works and no one will put a metal stick into it so it can work better. The academician is the doctors' last hope.
   Before that there was a professor. He spoke Latin phrases in a wise voice. I understood that surgery was the last hope. But the professor split, went abroad. They invited him. And he was the one who was supposed to perform the surgery. And he went abroad. He could have done this bloody surgery and then gone to his damned foreigners. I hate him.
   Now it is the academician.
   I stood up, put on my dressing gown and walked to the toilet holding the wall. I am counting the steps. Turn, another one, few more steps, I push the door and can smell - that's it, the toilet.
   I am going back to the ward in the same slow manner. I lay on the bed. I feel depressed. Very depressed. I carefully walk around the beds, lay on mine and cover my head with blanket.
   This is a habit - at night, in the barracks, light hurts the eyes and laying like this is warmer anyway. And now I want to be left alone.
   Breakfast? Dash it all!
   I pretend I am asleep, but tears fall down from my blind eyes. I am tired of living in darkness.
   There is a ward round in an hour, then a change of bandage. I will carefully touch my skin where it sags over my brain, then lunch, quiet hour, dinner, injection, lights out. I am waiting for the lights out. I will sleep then and I will see. At least in my dreams I can see.
   Weeks will pass like that. Then the academician will tell me what to do and what is going to happen to me next. And whether there will be a light at the end of the tunnel for me. I am tired.
  
  
   About translator:
   Михаил Казаков. Родился в 1970 году в Комсомольске-на-Амуре. Служил в 1988-1989 в Монголии. michael_kazakov@mail.ru"
  
   Corrected and edited by (22.01.2005):
   Tomas Duerden. (yjmsy78[AT]ucl.ac.uk)

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