Coming to the traffic-control point I watched the asphalted road, added by concrete sideroads, small birch- trees along them, one BMP model.
What could I say? Every place was full of barracks, no tents at all. The huge drill square made me sad. Canteen-sheds, big buildings, lamp-post caused my question 'Where have I come to?'
I believed, this looked like window-dressing. Why did I do my journey to Afghanistan instead of staying in the Soviet Union? I thought, I was unlucky. I had to go to Shindant. What would I tell my grandkids? About my marching in Kabul?
Kolyan looked forward to,
'Okay! Luxury place,' he embraced me. 'Service like at home. Civilized world!'
I couldn't say the same about me. I wished I would come to some colourless place without any chiefs and ostentation, but have just war.
Orderly officer examined our travel orders, then told us to go to the headquarters building.
Drill-training officer was shocked to have our coming. He asked, which place we had come from.
'Which place from? I am to serve in this regiment.'
'I see. But how did you get here?'
'On foot, for sure,' Nikolai exclaimed. He was afraid of coming to some neglected place, as it was said in his travel order.
'Nobody could go on foot here. If you go on foot, you may be killed, then transported in a zinc coffin. We've got a lot of cars, BMPs, BTRs, helicopters to transport people. Clear?'
'Of course. Is it right destination or not?' I hoped to go some other place.
'Right, right. Replacements have been waiting for ages. Why so long?'
'We're not going to serve here,' like a drowing man catches at a straw, I tried to show my negative attitude to everything, which was going around me.
'No matter. You are to serve here. This is the motorized infantry regiment Eighty. This has got some Heroes of the Soviet Union.'
'You've got nothing heroic, but asphalted road and lamp-posts.'
'Callow youth! Two Heroes of the Soviet Union served in this regiment.'
'For many years ago, I think,' I continued with melicious remark.
Kolyan stuck an elbow into my ribs, then hissed,
'Don't say a word! This is a luxury place. I don't want to have another.'
'Hey! What're you talking about? Go to the smoking-room to meet some guys you replace. Join the Battalion One: you (he pointed me) - company One, the other (he pointed Nikolai) - company Three.'
'REMF!' Nikolai was disappointed in the officer's decision. 'Did you watch his face? 'Fighter'! I think, he never visits the drill square.'
'Right you are! I dislike this! They will upset us,' I kept talking.
'I'd better march the drill square, not fight. We'll survive,' Nikolai stopped shocking, but was touched, 'I've just believed, Mikola's all up! Ruined life! No-o-o! No way!'
We were sitting in the summer-house. In some minutes two officers, looked like furious buffaloes, came to us.
'Who replaces senior lieutenant Alexeev?'
'I do. I'm lieutenant Rostovtsev,' I said. He embraced me.
'Where have you been? I'm Fedor Alexeev,' he introduced himself.
'We are to serve not this regiment,' I was upset.
'Lucky we are! We are here!' Mikola exclaimed. 'I love this place. Civilization! Peace! Everything is in order!'
'Now the situation is okay,' the second officer gave a short laugh. 'But great changes will come, after combat operations the batallion is having now.'
'My name is Sergey Nikitin. I am a zampolit for the company Three. Do you serve here instead of me?' he pointed a finger in the direction of Nikolai.
'Yes. I do,' Mikola answered, then carefully asked,
'What means 'combat operations'?'
'As it usually happens. The battalion started having raid near Pagman.'
'How far is it from here?'
'Kabul territory to have combat operations looks like a country trip,' Nikolai was satisfied with situation.
'Kabul environs may make you worry about your lives much more quicker than other Afghan regions. It is better to speak about Bagram zelenka as well as Charikar,' Alexeev answered.
'Well, well!' Mikola goggled at him. He turned red pouting.
'Kolyan! Let air out or burst,' I exclaimed with slapping him on the back. I was glad to hear about combat operations.
'The battalion takes part in war?' I asked.
'No kidding! We're flying home! Stop war! Let's go to the barrack to see beds per each of you.'
We moved to the barracks. Meleschenko went shuffling his feet, he was unwell. His high spirits vanished into the air. I had quite different expectations: not so often drill square marching was good for me.
That was we came. We were invited to join the good-bye dinner party. Alexeev and Nikitin were fussing around the junk room. They had some foreign money. Different people regurlary came to say hello in that room, laughing at something. It was incredible, nevertheless, hot air made me sick. I had been living for one year in Turkmenia, but it's no use. The room windows were sealed by foil, which caused ever semi-darkness. To put it away, the officers lighted one lamp, quite in the ceiling, covered by flies.
Fussing around the room started more than an hour ago. This was large of eight beds, the centre had one huge table, also some cupboards and bedside tables. The midday heat wore me down, before falling asleep, I could see the central table to be full of some cans, bottles, plates. Officers packed different sorts of food, then placed on the table.
Suddenly I came to myself, shook my dreams off.
'Kolyan, let's go to the repple-depple to take back things there.'
'Okay, what for? If we are said to join another regiment, what'll we do?' he asked with slight hope.
'I don't think so. They won't let us go with any pretext.'
'Guys! How can we take back our things from the repple-depple office?'
'Fuck them off! What's there?'
'Well, uniform I've got,' I answered.
'Fuck it! Can you really forget overcoat? You've brought ceremonial dress?'
'What do the headquarters officers think of? The Soviet Army has been in Afghanistan for five years, bastards, the officers are regurlarly sent to serve in uniform. REMFs are crazy! Today it's no use to have them. Some other day,' Alexeev said.
'Right he is! As soon as you go to the Division Office, you will take them,' Nikitin agreed.
'But my suitcase has got vodka,' Kolyan said.
'You've got the same?' Alexeev asked me with hopeful eyes.
'Yes! Each of us has got one bottle.'
'You haven't drunk all the stuff! Well done! Real aces! We can talk! You'll go now to the repple-depple station.'
In half of an hour we took seats in the car, which was driven by the local club-house chief. He wanted to be replaced as soon as possible, that's why he raced down the streets to find this replacing officer for him. He said indiguantly,
'See you! This new replacing 'fighter' does nothing and doesn't give a damn! I here tire myself out! Now I'll make good life for him!'
At the repple-depple station we took back our suitcases, then fucked the commandant (praporschik in rank) off, because he tried to give some instructions, which were based on his own 'combat' repple-depple experience, how to live without alcohol.
After that we watched two officers, namely, captains, were wandering around a car. One of them was extremely happy, the other was upset.
'Sergey! Come on! Guys are waiting for us. Food and drinks are on the table. Lieutenants (he turned to us)! Can you imagine us to study in one battalion? By the way, I'm Volodya. I'm the former club-house chief. His name's (he pointed a finger in the direction of the other officer) Sergey. He's the new club-house chief. From the LenVO. How about you?' thin captain with glasses asked us.
'I've come from the TurkVO, Mikola has come from the Prikarpatsky military command. We arrived yesterday.'
We started making friends. The return road was much easier and faster.
'Nikofor,' Mikola addressed me. 'I'll entertain one bottle to these officers (we were going to have the good-bye dinner tonight), the other I have to drink with the company commander.'
'Of course. Let's say, you and me have got one bottle per each. As soon as guys fininsh combat operations, we'll drink together.'
'Is alcohol sold in this region? How much is it?' Mikola asked in deep thought.
The arrival of ours turned up just at the right moment, as the officers began eating and drinking. There were no vacant places.
'Guys! Come here! To the right of me! We won't let you go now, otherwise somebody can steal you.'
All officers in drink laughed.
The cries 'Hurrah!' welcomed vodka. More five new-comers joined us, among them were the club-house chief, two platoon commanders from Mikola's company, now reconnaissance company commander, and one mortar man.
Besides them, other officers took part in this party, for example, the regiment staff deputy commander, which before this dinner had given to us some alcohol prohibition instructions, drill-training officer, and a lot of officers we didn't know all, also couple of 'ugly' girls as well as non-military guys.
Crying, clinking glasses, drinking, smoking did spread around the room.
During the first half of dinner one could observe more or less organized meeting, then unclear actions. The Afghan war veterans told us how to live. Someone introduced himself and talked to us. Terrific din couldn't let us understand what was going around. Everybody smoked.
Suddenly one officer switched on the tape-recorder (made in Japan!). The good-bye dinner became heavy drink...
'Shall we dance!' someone cried.
Nobody could control this wild dancing. The table was overflowed with empty bottles, jars and cans, cigarette-butts, some food on the plates.
'The soldiers and officers are coming back!' somebody gave a blood-curdling shriek. 'Hurrah!'
The chairs fell with bang, everybody running outside. The night curling air traced above the regiment territory. Fighting equipment was every place, roar of engines sheltered here. This moved behind the fence not to be observed because of hard dust.
All officers left us. We, being newcomers of green uniforms, stood on the steps. The other guys started smoking. I went to the barracks to get to know more about my soldiers.
In some minutes, while I was moving around the barracks,which had been shown to me before, some dirty soldiers burst into the room. They had rifles, ammunition as well as many other things. The soldiers stared at me, as if I looked like Martian. They began to undress, then gave rifles around the beds. I witnessed some discussion.
Suddenly one short praporschik (Armenian in nationality) came to the room, he cried everybody to get out of the way. The soldiers left for the store-room. They were getting more and more. After that, men had a dinner, all were around one table.
The room beds were spread, but without any pillow-cases or sheets. Just two of beds had pillow-cases. I approached them to see mourning photoes and flower on.
Praporschik asked me,
'Who are you, comrade lieutenant?'
I answered him, I was a new zampolit. We shook hands.
'Starshina! How about this? What's up?' I asked him.
'Shirkov was a gun-layer, Spitsa was a mechanic worked with BMP. They both were killed while we had the last raid. The military operation took place in Panjshir Valley. The armour equipment accompanied one column of tanks and cars, which had food, rifles and so on. Guys were killed like real heroes. The mujahideens, which positioned in zelenka, gunned down BMP. In general the sides had five holes. The mechanic lost his legs, however, in hospital died. The gun-layer fired his burning BMP till the moment the gun-turret came to pieces. They had been just serving for a half a year, started in spring. They are the first to loose in the company,' starshina was nervous playing with lash. New company commander served here after the guard battalion. He had bad luck. One more company commander had funny last name like Beda, but he was actually lucky. He had to leave us, because extremily loved women. Everything I told you, never say to the company commander. When we came under fire, he was away, all the infrantry was stationed in the mountains. One technician and tank-crew could fire back. No one more.'
'Is it often here?' I nodded in the in the direction of soldiers' photoes.
'Saying about the battalion, this is true, but our company soldiers are in luck. They fight well. I hope you'll be lucky too.'
Some officers were approaching the barrack, starshina ran toward them. He reported on arrival of mine.
One red-haired captain of great height stood out against others, reproving two lieutenants. They frowned at me.
I pronounced my name.
'Nice to meet you. Soldiers will be competent in politics with your help. Unfortunately we haven't got a zampolit for ages. Your forerunner enjoyed ideas about soon replacement, also liked buying up goods,' he said, then continued, 'As for me, I'm expecting my replacement every day, however, have got regular raids. I'm 'accompanied' by the crazy shell-shocked company executive officer, and also the platoon commander - too young lieutenant. So, now you're to introduce yourself, put soldiers to bed, then tomorrow you'll go to starshina to help him. My name is Ivan Kavun.' He pointed to the other officers, 'This is praporschik Fedarovich, praporschik Golubev, lieutenant Sergey Ostrogin. That's all! See you tomorrow!'
The officers, talking to each other, went to bed; Starshina stopped controlling soldiers to let them asleep. It was some minutes later after 1 a.m. The barrack was full of strong dirt and sweat, above all - curling dust. In depression I came back to the hostel. I could see nobody. Hardly found one vacant bed, I fall into a deep sleep.
* * *
The sun was shining through the cracks of window light camouflage. My watches showed getting up time. I went to the barracks. I didn't look, as if I had my fine days.
I wore crushed trousers, my boots got dusty, as well as the shirt having sweat in it. I didn't shave for two days. So, I did have no wish to look in the mirror because of my appearance. My situation of no particular sort made me upset. Yesterday I couldn't find any vacant place to put my things in. I had to wear uniform today, as if I were a black sheep among other guys. I'd never enjoyed having distinguished clothes to be obvious for people.
The soldiers had dreams as well as men on duty. I went to the store-room to wake starshina. In a shrill voice he appreciated getting up time, then, being in a hurry, said remarks for company soldiers on duty.
This crying made sergeants get up. They started, in turn, waking subordinates with shouts at them. There was a great fuss caused by dressing, washing, making beds.
The barrack was a sheet building with open bedroom, gun-room at the entrance; also office, some store-rooms, wash-basins. In the distant corner I found the leninskaya komnata. Well, well! I thought to see campaign way of life, but here everything was made for permanent goals. Hard to work! I didn't expect this at all.
Starshina called me to get into the store-room,
'Lieutenant! Let me introduce myself. My name is Goga Veronyan. I'm the company starshina, I've been in Afghanistan for two years. Soon I'll come back home. The company commander is an adequate man, he is veteran like me. He will be replaced in some time. He has been working here as the company commander for four months. He joined the battalion three, then, he started serving this place, because the last company commander had to leave us. Beda works now as a zamnachshtab. We've got just two platoon commanders, they are not experienced ones yet. The company deputy and machine-gun platoon commander have been having military activity for year and a half. The company executive officer has been here since spring,' in a guttural voice he rattled off. 'The company has got raids every month, soldiers can fight well, but soon many of them will be demobees, they will be replaced by newcomers. War will be hard to have! One more platoon commander will come soon.'
Somebody knocked at the door. One soldier came out with words,
'The new zampolit is wanted to the headquarters building!'
* * *
After visiting the headquarters building, Mikola and I went to the Party Committee. In one room we could find a grey-haired, bald-headed officer (major in rank).
'I'm the Party Committee Secretary!' he introduced himself. 'Come in, guys! Take your seat! I've got to talk to you. Why do you violate discipline? Drink vodka?'
'What? Who said to you?' Mikola was outraged.
'A little bird told me! You'd just started eating and drinking, but father Tsekhmistruk got to knew everything! You came here to discharge your international duty. See you! Instead of this what? Since the very beginning you drink. Shame on you!'
'Our replacements and me drank a bit,' Mikola tried to defend himself.
'Aha! Not to drink heavily, but in order to fix soldier discipline or unite body of officers?'
'Yes!' Meleschenko grinned with foolish appearance.
'You are the Ukranian, as I am, however, I won't permit you any liberties. Bear in mind!' the major continued to tell off. 'I'm giving you a piece of advice as your friend, just between you and me. Have you something heard about the decree 'Alcohol control'?'
We knew this. I had a splitting headache, moreover, it was stuffy in the room; being hungry, I wanted to have breakfast, but reprimands. 'So that, all zampolits must be abstinent! Do your best to start new life! In for years to come you'll be thankful. Have a breakfast, then think your service over!'
We left the headquarters building.
'Early in the morning some son of a bitch reported about yesterday party. Who is it?' Nikolai was furious.
'Maybe not early in the morning, but in the evening?' I asked. 'It's not difficult, is it? Report on some officer is not fight. This ability helps to make good career without any problems. He might get some order or medal...'
'I'd like to push this idiot's face in, I believe, this reptile joined our great dinner yesterday.'
'He didn't say a word about his coming to our place. He kept silence, because he was so modest!'
In the office we could see the company commander, he was happy.
'Ran you down?'
'Yesterday we drank a bit to make friends with other officers. Today everybody knows everything.'
'These REMFs report on each other very well. The regiment has got two zampolits, the Party Committee, military security service chief, secret agents in battalions. One of the latters has tried for a month to confiscate my gun 'Beretta'.'
* * *
''Beretta'? Rifle? Got like a trophy? Really?'
'I'll show you once, but you'll never tell anybody. Clear?'
The company commander took out a small black rifle from the metal box, I'd never seen before. In armed forces PM was of common use in the combat manueuver units.
'Some guys from special forces presented me, as I worked at the frontier post near Jalalabad in the battalion three. Somebody blew about my secret, that's why the agents try to confiscate, but actually have got no idea of where I kept. I think, Rastayazhkin will present my rifle to some secret agent as a souvenir. I want to have got it myself after the Afghan war. No way! I'll have to leave it here. It's impossible to carry a rifle to the Soviet Union. If the rifle were given to me as a reward, I would have it.'
Ivan was sad.
'Could you present me this rifle before you replace?'
'No, I can't. I am responsible for it any way. I don't want anybody to know this story in the Soviet Union. No. I'll present the rifle to Rastyazhkin. However, it's not high time to do this.'
'Vanya! Let's drink tonight after the soldiers fall asleep. I'd like to introduce myself to other officers.'
'Nikofor! I'd like to, but I can't. I've got liver desease because of janudice. I've got a lot of work to do as a raidparticipant. The platoon commanders are too young like you, so, they've just arrived from the Soviet Union. They'll do without vodka. You shouldn't have any praporschik as a companion for drinking. You'd better give this bottle to Serega Groshikov, company executive officer, enjoying this. He takes a cure for his shell-shocked head this way. Yesterday he returned for the hospital.'
The door opened, so, could we see the company executive officer. Talk of the devil and he is sure to appear! He had a broad stupid smile. First, the lintel was touched by his head, then he stepped into the office catching his crown the door-post. Groshikov said hello.
'Oh, damn! These doors are too low to go through.'
'We can, but giraffes must bend! Ho! Ho! Ho!' the company commander roared with laughter. 'Get well after yeasterday party? Didn't break the peace?'
'Don't mock me! I've just came back from the Soviet Union, it's too early to do this. How about company? Is it okay?'
'Let me introduce you the new zampolit - Nikofor Rostovtsev. Soon the platoon commanders will return, they're having a breakfast now. Haven't you seen any of them?'
'No, I haven't. Starshina says they are stupid guys, really so?' Groshikov was interested in situation.
'That's true. We'll make them good fighters. They've just had the first raid. If they don't want to study combat art, they won't survive. You, zampolit (he addressed me), listen to us, veterans, very attentively, try to get to the heart of the matter. You must be a bright guy. In the company two, one damned zampolit couldn't live just for a month, he was killed. Some day I'll tell you this story,' Sergey said appreciating my appearance. 'You're short and thin fellow.'
'I'm of average height. I'm the difficult target of the enemies, hard to kill. I'm thin, as I served in TurkVO for one year, - because I became wasted. Moreover, I've been changing my destinations for two weeks, - no proper sleep, no proper eat.'
'The same about us. This place is not for holidays,' the company commander laughed. Get ready - in a week you'll have got the first raid. Have practical classes with soldiers, put on new uniform. You'd better get a gun as soon as possible.' He addressed to Groshikov, ' Serega, he brought a bottle of vodka to you!'
'Really? Old chap, you're making me happy! Why for me? How about yourself?'
'He gave up drinking. Yesterday he did a bit to get introduced to other officers, but some son of a bitch reported on him to the Party Committee.'
'You think I want to be done the same? Actually, I don't care. I'm a shell-shocked guy. I let anybody report on me. Give me vodka, zampolit! I'll invite Kolobok and Golubev to drink. Be healthy and wealthy!'
'I went to the store-room to take vodka 'Stolichnaya', then delivered it to Sergey. He gathered up the bottle and left us with crying,
'Thanks a lot, men!'
'You see! He'll drink till tomorrow. Kolobok, being the member of the Young Communist League, serves in another battalion, but Golubev, being the commander of the grenade-throwing-machine-gun platoon, must be caught not to go to drink vodka. He'd better control soldiers' activity. They are to scrub guns.'
The first day went in a spin like merry-go-round. Mikola and I introduced to the regiment commander, staff chief, regiment deputy commander, both regiment zampolits, battalion commander, battalion deputy commander. We introduced and talked, introduced and talked, introduced and talked...
After formation of all officers the Party Committee Secretary asked one question, which shocked us,
'Comrades lieutenants, are you going to register your names in the Division Party Committee List?'
Kolya had a foolish smile, then, in his turn, asked,
'Should we go any place? Is it far away from here?'
'Division headquarters building takes place in Bagram, also, you know, the Party Committee works there to register. It takes two or three hours by BTR, if you're lucky.'
'Is it dangerous?' Meleschenko hesitated.
For sure, it may be dangerous; going along road means you may be fired at any time. War is war! I've been three times for this month,' the Party Committee Secretary had sad eyes full of horror experienced in these trips.
He was a strong man, about forty years old, very tall (close to six ft); he was white-haired man with vacant spots for hair on his head. His face had a lot of wrinkles on the rough skin, which witnessed his hard service. He was going to get pension salary in some years, but new disaster, like war, came into his life. White hair didn't let him become lieutenant-colonel.
'As for me, guys, the Division Headquarters stopped my 'making friends' with Afghanistan. You see, I've got a great number of documents to work with, I also control admission to the Party, different meetings. Two battalions guard two roads,' his sad words were getting to come more and more, 'The first one took place in zelenka on the way to Bagram, the battalion two - on the way to Jalalabad. Soon, I'll have to visit these places, but today it's impossible. You must go to the Division Headquarters as soon as possible. By the way, the inspectors from the TurkVO are planning to examine there. Today they are working in our regiment. In an hour they'll do by helicopter, not car. The bus will leave for Bagram in half an hour, it will stop near the headquarters building. If you've got no objections in the regiment, take necessary documents, then go,' the major took heart.
While we were approaching the barracks, Mikola exlclaimed,
'Good, we'll go by helicopter with the Military Command Committee, not by BTR. Come on!'
I didn't want to put on my uniform, however, no way, we could let this chance go. I was fed up being a new comer. I wanted to put on my field dress, this could help me not to strike somebody's eyes.
I explained all the details to the platoon commander. He let me leave. In twenty minutes I came to the headquarters building.
Nikolai was still absent, but I was surprised to see him in the coming bus together with clubchief. The captain Volodya invited me to get into.
'You see, guys, I'll go to Bagram to take my name off the register. I'm leaving for Piter. I'm sick and tired of hot weather, feel like going to have rainy days.'
We understood everything.
Two grand colonels came out the headquarters building, they were not in a hurry, accompanied by the regiment commander, then approached us.
'Who are you?' one of them was severe.
We didn't say a word, because the clubchief answered that we wanted to go by this helicopter to Bagram.
'Well! Go!' one of the officers graciously concede our request.
'Who can guard us?' the colonel was surprised.
'Guard?' the regiment commander was confused, scratching his head. He goggled, then shouted at praporschik,
'WHO CAN GUARD US?' Double! Take the staff chief of artillery division! Two gunned soldiers come here! Come on!'
The clubchief, choking with laughter, told us the regiment commander was not going to guard anybody. The driver had one gun as well as praporschik had two hand-grenades in his jockey-box. The regiment commander sent for the gunned soldiers, because this barrack was the nearest to find some guys. Soon, one major approached us, following by soldiers, one of which looked half-asleep.
'Squad duty soldiers is coming here,' the captain smiled.
'Why are you late? You are to guard command officers!' the regiment commander started shouting at everything. 'I ordered them to wait for us half an hour ago! Lazybones! I'll do disciplinary measure, comrade major!'
The regiment commander cried without giving a chance to think over. The staff chief of artillery division couldn't understand why he was runned down.
'Soldiers, get into the bus! I'll talk to you, major!'
He shook hands of two colonels; after that he closed the busdoor. We started, looking at the regiment commander slapped the major on his back, and said to return the barrack.
We turned round to see, how the shocked major wiped his brow without understanding what had happened.
'The captain has found a solution,' the clubchief whispered to us. 'Nobody can have guard in Kabul. Rear officers must be thrown dust in his eyes to give a chance of feeling like heroes here.'
While moving, we looked at every street, houses made of clay, palaces of no great number; sometimes we saw luxurious private mansions. Once the bus went past the five-storeyed buildings, erected by the Soviet people. The captain gave his comments during the trip as if he did this regularly.
The inspectors thought over something, but the soldiers were asleep, putting his arms round the guns. Everyone to his trade.
On the airdrome we approached the very helicopter. We were registered, then taking off. I clang to the window to watch thoroughly the Afghan landscape as if birds had view. We went over some mountain range and valley, then landed the ground for helicopters near some barracks.
Nikolai and I had to introduce to an unpleasant arrogant lieutenant-colonel Baidakovsky.
We caught it! He gave some biting remarks about uniform. Mumbling all the time, he was displeased with everything. He told us, he started serving not long ago, but couldn't let to have undisciplined officers and soldiers. According to his plans, all raid battalion men had to be controlled in everything. At last, he left us alone. It grew dusk, while we were visiting the Party Committee for registration. At the traffic- control point the duty soldier told us that no cars moving to Kabul. He hoped us to wait for tomorrow.
What to do? Where to stay the night? On the top of all this, hunger made us come back to the Party Committee. Suddenly, the clubchief faced us.
'Guys! I'v been run off my feet. Where've you been? I'll have to stay here till tomorrow morning.'
'Volodya! Had you dinner? We are very hungry!'
'Hungry is not enough, but sleep is of high importance. Let's go to the cafeteria. Find out is there.'
He chattered with some guys; the waitress was displeased with us, but laid the table.
'So, after dinner we're going to visit a concert. At night, I believe. We'll solve the problem of staying in the hostel.'
There were no vacant places in the club, however, Volodya ordered three soldiers to leave, then we took their seats.
The concert lasted for an hour and a half. The song 'Cuckoo' sank into my heart: 'Ten... ninety, hundred - how many years everyone can live.'
One more song made me cheerful:
Morning meets me in Bagram,
Gives me blowing wind;
Banners streaming just for man,
Dust above the skin.
Pride is going through the tears,
Gun will break my fears.
* * *
'Comrades lieutenants! You didn't arrive to play the fool, but serve. What have you done? How about documents? Got to know people you have to work with? Have yoy made dope sheets after combat operations? Drinking every day?' the regiment zampolit Zolotarev (major in rank) said.
He continued pronouncing some nonsense. He was a fat man, not long ago graduated from the Political Academy. I was furious, ready to choke him with anger. Officers and soldiers had regular combat operations, but his words looked ridiculous.
Mikola promised to eliminate 'defects'. We left the room quickly.
What a talk with chief after Bagram trip!
'Son of a bitch! You see? He is sleek! Reptile! He's just thirty years old, but has got regiment zampolit post,' I was outraged.
We disliked major Zolotarev. He had eyes shifting uneasily, clumsy figure, monotonous voice gave words, as if he was drafted to serve from remote place. Mikola and Zolotarev were alike in some way.
The second zampolit for propaganda work instructed us to take care of the leninskaya komnata, visual aids and so on.
The Party Committee Secretary and Young Communist League Secretary demanded to make all documents again, concerned with political information. The zampolit for propaganda work told us to write staff plans for the current year. How could I do this, if I had never served here? In answer I heard, 'You were to talk with the officer you replaced.'
Right! Mikola had real tragedy. He didn't have any documents.
I ransacked the things, got after Alexeev's leaving. Nothing raising my hopes! I was in deep shit! I had the same things in TurkVO.
A couple of sergeants, being Platoon Communist Secretaries, wrote all I dictated. They looked at me and couldn't realize anything. I felt as if I were an idiot. These guys had combat operations not long ago, however, somebody made them write some nonsense.
Some soldier drew four dope sheets for the platoons. We made the wall-newspaper on the back of the old one, because of clear paper lack.
The lelninskaya komnata was a great surprise to me!
I was writing different documents for a week. I was dictating something to the soldiers. I managed to make all, which had been out of any officer's attention.
Poorly organized life in the battalion caused my heart heavy. I spent nights in the store-room, that was of starshina's control. The second bed was absolute essential, because Alexeev still took a place of mine.
Every night had shell-bursts, which sometimes landed the regiment territory. The Afghan soldiers did target practice, situated in the opposite mountain, behind the military unit. Once three civilian employees and one praporschik got shrapnel wounds. After the second firing, the regiment commander ordered to build trenches between barracks. A shell pierced the barrackroof, when guys had regular vodka drank. I believe, not all of them realized what had happened. This saved them from sensation of pain.
'The big Pakistan convoy is likely to come back, because shells are greately used,' Kavun pronounced in deep thought at one night artillery borbardment.'
'Vanya, what do you think of the Soviet artillery to hit the enemies?' I asked.
'It's impossible to say positions. We've got to control big region, but no any observation posts to set adjustment of fire. The Afghan soldiers usually takes a hundred-two hundreds RSs by donkeys or cars in the evening, then firing without sight at night. Two dookhs go to stretch wire, fixed to a battery, of getting electric charge. There is no point in it. No aim, no effect, but too much noise. The main thing is moral pressure to bear upon Soviet officers and soldiers. Moreover, all foreign journalists report that the insurgent army succeeded in making combat operations.'
'How often does such firing happen?'
'Like this never. They intend to do something. I believe, they won't have the cheek to go on these actions for a long time. We'll change their plans, in this case you and me will have a lot to do!'
When firing, I took my place in the trench like many other officers, but in some days I was fed up. I couldn't have got quite good sleep there, so did I nothing in the morning, because of being tired. Starshina gave an idea to sleep on matrrasses in the store-room.
'If hitting the target makes itself felt, you know, we'll be able to jump out of a window. Moreover, any dug-out may be fired.'
Company commander made up a decision to stay in bed at night without any keeping in trenches. I slept in the store-room.
* * *
Emergency job came suddenly, that was fresh blood. Young soldiers were thin and worn out. Draftees stood and watched. They had scared look in eyes.
Demobees left for the Soviet Union. We did this as quickly as it was possible to keep out of young soldiers' way.
I was sick and tired of writing and dictating different documents everyday. Once the company commander, after he returned from the headquarters building, said to me,
'Tomorrow we'll leave to have got combat operations. Lucky you are, zampolit! No documents at all! Just war!'
Hurrah! War! Tomorrow! What I looked for? What did I want to get here? My death?.. Probably, I asked for trouble. I did it without any help. I was a volunteer.
replacement - an officer that takes the place or function of another
Pagman - kishlak in western Afghanistan
Bagram zelenka - dense foliage - thick growth of trees in areas of military activities that provide cover (in Russian first used in Afghanistan, then in Chechnya)
Charikar - town in eastern Afghanistan
ace - a handsome, well-built and sucessful young man (in Russian often jocular)
LenVO - Leningrad (former name of today St. Petersburg) military command
Prikarpatsky military command - situated in the Ukraine
Panjshir Valley - valley in north-central Afghanistan (Panjshir Province)
Beda - in Russian this word means 'misfortune' or 'disaster'; here used to have humorous effect
leninskaya komnata - a room of special sort, usually decorated by propaganda posters, portraits of political leaders, and so on, was of common use in the Soviet Union, namely at any enterprise, university, school to have political classes with young people (= soldiers in a military command)
zamnachshtab - staff executive officer
Party Committee - a self-constituted organization of the Communist Party for the promotion of a common object
Ukranian - nickname from custom of shaving head except for single tuft of hair
secret agents - an officer of a special department in a military organization or industrial plant responsible for safeguarding state secrets