by Mikhail Zoshchenko, 1924
from Scenes from the Bathhouse: And Other Stories of Communist Russia

( Photo by sw0000 )

The party finished very late.
Vasya Chesnokov, tired and sweaty, was standing in front of Masha, begging her:
– Wait a little bit, my honey… Wait for the tram number 1. Indeed where are you going, my God… It is possible to take a seat here and wait, but you are going… Wait for the tram number 1. You are sweaty and I’m sweaty… Otherwise we will catch cold in this frost…
– No, – said Masha, putting her boots on. – What a gentleman you are if you can’t see your lady home because of the frost.
– But I’m sweaty, – Vasya was saying almost bursting into tears.
– Well, come on!
Vasya obediently put his fur-coat on and followed Masha outside, holding her hand tight.
It was cold outside. The moon was shining. Snow squeaked under the feet.
– Ah, what a fussy lady you are, – said Vasya Chesnokov, looking at Masha’s face with admiration. – If that was not you, but anyone else – I would never ever see her home. Really and truly! I went only because of my love to you.
Masha laughed.
– You are laughing, – said Vasya, – but I am really, Maria Vasilievna, fond of you and love you madly. If you tell me: lay, Vasya Chesnokov, on the tram rails and wait for the first tram to come – I will. Truly…
– Please, stop it, – said Mashenka, – Better have a look how beautiful is everything here, when the moon is shining. How beautiful is the city at night! What a marvelous beauty!
– Well, marvelous beauty, – said Vasya, looking with some astonishment at the shabby plastering, flaking off the building. – Very beautiful, truly… Even such beauty starts affecting you, Maria Vasilievna, when you are truly in love… Even though lots of scientists and members of the Communist Party deny the existence of love, I, Maria Vasilievna, don’t deny that. I will love you until I die. I am happy to sacrifice myself for my love. Truly… Just tell me: bang, Vasya Chesnokov, your head against this wall – and I will.
– Let’s go, – said Masha, not without some pleasure.
– I’ll truly bang it. Would you like me to?
The couple came to the Kryukov Canal.
– Truly, – again said Vasya, – would you like me to jump in the canal? Would you, Maria Vasilievna? Don’t you believe me? I can prove…
Vasya Chesnokov grabbed the hand-rails and pretended to climb over them.
– Ah! – cried Masha. – Vasya! What are you doing!
Suddenly a dark silhouette appeared from behind the corner and stopped under the street lamp.
– What is all this noise about? – the silhouette said quietly, looking at the couple.
Masha screamed in horror and drove herself into a rail.
A man came closer and pulled Vasya Chesnokov’s sleeve.
– Hey, you, – said the man in a quiet voice. – Throw off your coat. And faster. If you try to make a noise – I’ll punch you in your head, and that’s the end of you. Did you get it, bastard? Throw it off!
– Ex-ex-ex, – started Vasya, trying to say something like: “Excuse me, but how come?”
– So! – the man pulled his fur coat.
Vasya unbuttoned his fur-coat with trembling hands and took it off.
– Take off your boots as well! – said the man. – I need a pair of boots as well.
– Ex-ex-ex, – said Vasya, – excuse me… frost…
– So!
– So you are not touching the lady, but I should take my boots off?! – said Vasya with offended tone of voice. – She has a lovely fur-coat, and boots, but I should take my boots off not she!
The man looked at Mashenka and said:
– If I take it off her and will carry it in my hands – I’ll be spotted straight away. I know what I’m doing. Did you take them off?
Mashenka was staring at the man in horror and did not move. Vasya Chesnokov sat down on the snow and started unfastening his boots.
– But still – she has a fur-coat, – said Vasya again, – and boots, but I should take the rap for both of us…
The man put Vasya’s fur-coat on, grabbed his boots and said:
– Sit here, don’t move and don’t chatter with your teeth. But if you move or make a sound – that’s the end of you. Did you get it, bastard? And you, lady…
The man quickly buttoned up the fur-coat and disappeared.
Vasya went limp, shrank and sat in the snow, looking with mistrust at his feet in white socks.
– Here you go, – he said, casting an angry glance at Mashenka. – I should see her home and I should lose my possessions. Is it right?
When the robber’s steps went silent, Vasya Chesnokov moved his feet restlessly in the snow and screamed with a loud, shrilly voice:
– Help! Robbery!
Then he jumped up and ran on the snow, hopping and jerking his legs in horror. Mashenka stayed by the railing.

( Photo by Serge (CrMax) )


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