#SpeakOut for Freedom

From http://www.sodahead.com

Now dreams
Are not available
To the dreamers,
Nor songs
To the singers.
In some lands
D
ark night
And cold steel
Prevail
But the dream
Will come back,
And the song
Break
Its jail.

By Langston Hughes

Russia: “Speak out for Freedom” – show of solidarity against repression

Amnesty International has launched a Week of Action, from 6 to 12 October 2014, to show solidarity with independent voices in Russia who speak out against the pernicious creep of repression in the country.

To mark the start of the Week of Action Amnesty International is publishing a new briefing, Violation of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly in Russia, which focuses on the following areas of concern:

  • Independent media in Russia – journalists threatened, harassed, physically attacked and even murdered with impunity;
  • Non-governmental organizations smeared, fined and forced to close down for independent and critical work spuriously presented as “political activities” in the interests of foreign sponsors;
  • Protesters denied the right to express their views in public spaces; arrested and tried in unfair proceedings.

The week of action coincides with the 8th anniversary of the murder of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, one of the all-time staunchest critics of the Kremlin and once a prominent free voice of the Russian media.

Freedom

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THE END

Lemon Beauty

Anger2
From http://www.zdorovieinfo.ru

“Do you have any lemons?” asked Victoria reading one of the popular women’s magazines.

“Lemons? In the middle of Russian winter? What do you need lemons for?” I wondered.

“Not me, but you. You always were more adventurous. Let’s trial this on you first.”

“Me? Trial what?”

“The best beautifying detox treatment”

“Beautifying you say? Then you need milk not lemons.”

“Why milk?”

“Don’t you remember – Cleopatra used to beautify herself by bathing in milk. I wonder what my folks will think if they spot me in a bathtub full of milk,” I giggled.

From http://www.care2.com

“No, no. Milk is out of fashion now. Besides, how are you going to get so much milk to your bathtub, without even mentioning the cost? Lemons are the way to go now … and apple vinegar,” said Victoria with authority in her voice.

“So are you expecting me to bathe in a bathtub full of apple vinegar juggling lemons?” I laughed.

“No, no. You don’t need a bathtub at all – you can stay in bed watching TV.”

“That sounds better. What about lemons and vinegar?”

“It is very simple – we’ll get you wrapped in a sheet soaked in vinegar, then will cover you with lots of warm blankets. You’ll need to stay like that for a few hours drinking a cup of hot lemon drink every ten minutes. I’ll get the drinks ready for you.”

“You must be joking! Where did you get these crazy ideas from?” I laughed.

“Not crazy at all. Look at this article – all Hollywood stars are doing that.”

“They must be growing lots of lemons in Hollywood then!”

“Come on. You try that first and then I’ll have a go,” said Victoria.

From http://janasjournal.com

I completely forgot about this conversation, when Victoria came to my place with a bag of lemons.

“Look, I’ve spent all my monthly income on these lemons. You surely can’t say no to such sacrifice. No one else is at home – perfect timing. You go first. Where do you have spare sheets?”

“That’s not my cup of tea, Victoria,” I tried to object.

“What tea? You won’t be getting any tea – only lemon drinks. Come on, it won’t take long – only a few hours.”

Ignoring my objections, Victoria pulled out an old sheet and soaked it in apple vinegar. Five minutes later I was all naked, wrapped in the stinky wet sheet, trying to warm up under a pile of blankets. Victoria turned the TV on.

“Enjoy while I get the first lemon drink ready,” she said disappearing in the kitchen.

“Enjoy! Do you really think it is enjoyable to be wrapped in that stinky sheet?” I shouted to her.

“Beauty requires sacrifices,” responded Victoria with authority in her voice, bringing me the first cup of hot lemon drink.

Lemon drink was nice and it did help me to warm up a bit. The second drink was OK. After the third cup I had enough.

“Look, I had enough of these lemon drinks.”

“Beauty requires sacrifices,” repeated Victoria. “Still 10 more cups to go”.

“Ten more cups!!!”

“Yep, wait here, I’ll make another cup of lemon drink,” she said disappearing in the kitchen.

After three more cups I could not tolerate this any longer.

“Victoria, I can’t drink it anymore. I’m bursting.”

“Hm, that’s a bit of a problem. This article does not say anything about that. You’ve done one hour only. You need to wait for another hour. Beauty requires sacrifices,” she said disappearing in the kitchen.

девушка с лимономFrom http://krasotavnytri.ru

After three more cups I could not wait any longer. As soon as Victoria disappeared in the kitchen to make another cup of lemon drink, I jumped out of bed and, still wrapped in the wet sheet, rushed into the hall to get to the toilet.

To my horror, right at that moment the front door flew open and my brother came in with all his mates from engineering Uni. Without a word, I dashed past them into the bathroom and locked the door. A few minutes later the whole flat burst with roaring laughter: the lads discovered the copy of the women’s magazine with that ‘beautifying’ article….

That night dad joined us for dinner.

“You look particularly beautiful tonight,” he said to me with a wink, “Would you like another lemon?” he asked, taking a lemon out of his pocket…

I could not stand lemons for the rest of the year and women’s magazines – for the rest of my life after that day.

From http://pikabu.ru

THE END

Chanel N°5 Russian Style

Russia, 1990s

CHANEL-N°5-LEau-2

“Gosh, don’t tell me it ‘s Chanel N°5”, Victoria wrinkled her nose.

“What’s wrong with Unleaded 91?” – I gave her a wink.

“And look at your face. Is that your new makeup?”

“Ivan does not mind it. In fact, that’s the only ‘makeup’ he is OK with,” I giggled inspecting my dirty snout in the car mirror.

*  *  *
From http://www.photosight.ru

Ivan hated seeing me with my makeup on. “Why do you need to put all this stuff on your face to make yourself look like a painted doll?”, he used to say every time he would spot lipstick or any other makeup on my face. “You are beautiful just the way you are. Why can’t you simply be yourself?”…

You are so beautiful without makeupFrom http://www.pinterest.com

“Give us a few minutes to finish with the car and we’ll be ready to go,” said Ivan, poking his snout out.

“Gosh, you both look like twins now,” giggled Victoria.

From http://rikki-t-tavi.livejournal.com

I always enjoyed hanging around when Ivan was fixing his car, moped or various stuff around his or mine flat. He was good at fixing stuff. I was not much of a help, but he did seem to enjoy my company. We could chat about all sorts of things, or enjoy silence. No silly questions, no pressure. Everything was so simple with Ivan. If something rattled me, he always knew how to make me feel better.


From http://razeehasblog.blogspot.co.nz

Victoria got cheap tickets to ‘Swan Lake’. We both enjoyed ballet. Luckily, St Petersburg had some of the best ballet theatres in the world. Ivan and Alex were not particularly into ballet, but they were OK to go with us and get us safely back home. The streets of St Petersburg were not very safe in those days. No sensible girls ventured out on their own in the dark.

Swan Lake Odette San Francisco BalletFrom http://debeysklenar.wordpress.com

The ballet finished after 10 pm and we happily trotted back to the car. Ivan was driving, while Victoria and I were giggling and chatting on the back seats. There was not much traffic and hardly any people on the streets. Suddenly a car swirled towards us, almost forcing us off the road.

“Duck down,” shouted Ivan, accelerating .

“It looks like we got mistaken for a rival escort service by the local bastards who are ‘manning’ this district. Two lads on the front seats, two girls at the back – typical escort services set up.”

“But we surely don’t look like that sort of girls,” objected Victoria.

“Duck down, Victoria. I doubt they will bother looking at us, if they get us,” I whispered, forcing her down.

Жажда скорости и 12 протоколовFrom http://zebra-tv.ru

“What will happen to us then?” whispered Victoria.

“Have you watched “The Rifleman of the Voroshilov Regiment”? If we are lucky, it won’t go further than a bit of Kama Sutra. If those bastards share Marquis de Sade’s views on the pleasures of pain however, then the outcome for us will be much worse. I’m more worried about our lads though – for them it might be all over much quicker and simpler, with a higher chance of a fatal outcome. Now duck down and stay quiet, please. We don’t know what kind of weapons these bastards might have.”

Though in Russia it was illegal to own a handgun privately, criminals did not seem to have any issues with obtaining all sorts of guns, including automatic ones. Knives, axes and other weapons were commonly used as well.

From Gun Violence

It was the fastest car ride in my life. That was the only time I ever prayed, though I was never particularly religious. Luckily, we managed to get away and drove straight to Victoria’s house.

“Is there any chance we could stay overnight at your place?” I asked Victoria. “Don’t feel like driving anymore tonight. We are fine with sleeping on the floor if you have no spare beds.”

“Sure. I’ll talk to my mum. I’m sure she won’t mind.”

Victoria lived in a two-room apartment with her mum. We stayed there a few times before – boys in one room, girls in the other. Her mum was OK with that.

“Gosh, these escort services must be a very scary business,” whispered Victoria once we settled in our room.

“You reckon. Ambulance services are as scary these days. Do you remember my school friend Lucy? She is studying to be a doctor. She had a stint with paramedics as part of her training – the scariest experience she ever had. What do you think such bastards do when they get drugged and drunk and want a girl to have fun with? Call an ambulance. With 99% of paramedics being female, these bastards have a good chance of getting a female for fun. Then you can only pray God they won’t get into experimenting with bottles and other objects. Drugged and drunk, they’ll have no brakes… and no understanding of anatomy to realise that there is not much room there for such objects to go far… Thanks goodness, the male drivers in that ambulance unit were very good. They would keep female paramedics in the ambulance until they check that the call is genuine and the specified address is safe.”

From http://www.xn 

“My God, that’s awful”.

“Talking about Lucy, I wanted to give her a call to check that magic stuff advertised in all pharmacies. It is claimed to provide emergency contraception as well as protection against all sexually transmitted diseases. Sounds too good to be true. Thought she might know whether these claims can be trusted. Let’s go to sleep now – tomorrow is another day and … please, no more ballet this month…”

Rape victim given 'contraceptive pills'From http://news.oneindia.in

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THE END

 

 

THAT most empowering ONE

I usually collect other people’s writings and rarely write myself. However as Melanie, one of my dear followers and frequent visitors, indicated a few weeks ago that she enjoys my stories best of all on my blog, I decided to make her a special treat and post one of  my old little stories that was sitting on my computer for a few years. Hope you’ll have a few giggles while reading it, Melanie 🙂

* * *

( Russia, 1990s )

Sisters
from Coroflot

“Long ago in a faraway kingdom, three sisters were outside in the courtyard talking, imagining what they would do if they were married to Tsar Saltan. One said that she would prepare a great feast for the entire world. The next said that she would weave linen for the entire world. The third said that she would give the tsar “an heir, handsome and brave beyond compare.”

It did not take long for Ivan’s mum to pick up that I was totally useless in anything practical, so one day when we came to his home she greeted us with the following words:

“Hm, you won’t get any feast from that one. I doubt you’ll get any linen either. Well, from that one we’ll take heirs then,” she giggled and gave him a wink.

I don’t think I ever blushed that much in my life, while Ivan gave his mum a fierce look.

“She surely does not mean that “making heirs” is the only thing I’m good at?” I whispered to Ivan as soon as we got to his room. “And who are the other ‘ones’ she is talking about?”

“Do you think any other ‘ones’ will be hanging around with a mum like THAT ONE?”

Hanging

From Pinterest

A few days later I did point out to THAT ONE, that there were neither heirs nor wedding bells on the horizon.

“Oh well”, she giggled, “you’ll still make a good daughter for me, whether it is in-law or without any law”, she gave me a wink.

“I always wanted to have a daughter, you see,” she continued. “Ended having two sons instead,” she sighed. “Hope you’ll have at least one daughter. From a daughter you’ll always get a smile and a hug, while the only tender words you’ll ever hear from the sons are ‘What’s for dinner, ma?!’ “

Right at that moment the door flew open and her two sons rushed into the kitchen: “What’s for dinner, ma!?”

We both burst into laughter.

“What are you laughing about, YOU TWO?” her both sons looked at us with suspicion.

That’s how THAT ONE turned into YOU TWO.

Dinner
from Menu Monday

“That’s unfair,” pointed Ivan a few weeks later. “Every time you come to my place, it is all the giggles between YOU TWO. THAT ONE is my mum after all, but she seems to make more fuss about you than about me!”

“Come on, we can share THAT ONE,” I gave him a wink with a giggle.

 Mum
From Pinterest

Giggling with THAT ONE was like a breath of fresh air in the suffocating environment of obscure ‘cultural’ notions and norms when even at the University professors every now and then were ‘lecturing’ us, female students, about catching ‘princes’ before finishing the Uni on the grounds that there won’t be any ‘princes’ left afterwards. As one of the popular songs went, “there were only 9 boys for every 10 girls” at that time, which is not surprising taking into consideration millions of males killed during the revolution, civil war, First World War, Second World War, Stalin’s repressions, in Afghanistan and later in Chechnya. And Russia in those days was not the country where girls could easily live on their own. It looked like the whole purpose of girls’ existence was catching a prince – and the better the catch, more ‘worthy’ the girl was perceived…

 Cake
From http://andrfem.blogspot.co.nz

No cohabitation was ‘allowed’ before wedding bells – that ‘cultural’ notion puzzled me the most. After all, no one would be getting a new dress or a new suit without trying it first. Why were we forced to make important decisions in our lives after having just a few dates? How much can you learn about another person if all your ‘shared’ experiences are limited to a movie and a few ice-creams?

 Kino
From http://bonlady.ru/

THAT ONE fell into that trap herself with a quick marriage at the age of 19 that ended up in an even quicker divorce and a long spell of solo-parenting. No way she would fall for any of these “cultural” notions again.

“Listen to no one but yourself,” she used to say to me. “That’s your life – live it the way you want. Don’t let anyone else to write the story of your life”, she gave me a wink.

I smiled and gave a big hug to THAT MOST EMPOWERING ONE. My own family had no respect for my views, feelings or choices… Only princes – no trials and no frogs…

Family
From Adoption Services International

THE END

A prayer for Ukraine

Family2 

My grandma was Ukrainian. My granddad was Russian. They lived happily in Ukraine all their life and are now both resting in peace next to each other…

What is happening in Ukraine now is not as simple as a pro-Western faction of residents protesting a unilateral decision to pull away from deeper EU integration made by a democratically elected government. There’s much more to the story.

While a few experts are trying to put the story straight in Ukraine from the geopolitical perspective, propaganda machines is busily working on all sides, manipulating public perception. Similar to the media coverage of the conflict in Afghanistan in 1984-1986 , the story gets twisted by the media machines in support of a certain agenda.

Media

From When the Media Chooses the Side

As Neil Clark points out in his article Ukraine & EU: Why some protestors are more equal than others, “leading western media outlets have not only have deemed the protests to be a major story, but their reporting makes it quite clear whose side they are on….It’s revealing to compare the highly sympathetic, high profile western coverage of the Ukrainian protests with the way other protests have been covered in recent years… Generally speaking, we can say that if the protests are against a government the western elites don’t like or it’s a cause they support… then they will receive extensive coverage. Not only that, but the protest will be reported in a very positive way, even if violence is used by the protesters… “, while if similar violence is used by protesters in Western countries they will be “condemned as ‘thugs’ and ‘criminals’”.

Maidan1
From Getting the Story Straight in Ukraine

Russian media on the other hand is focusing all attention on the most controversial element of the anti-government alliance in Ukraine – Svoboda, an extreme right-wing political party that has representation in Ukrainian parliament and is widely known for its neo-Nazi views. Its leaders are included on the top ten list of most active anti-Semites of the world for their calls to fight with “goat-likes [Russians] and kikes [Jewish].”

Svoboda_Logo

The history of the radical nationalist movement in Ukraine is very long.  The radical nationalist organization under the leadership of Stepan Bandera actively cooperated with Hitler’s troops during the war, fighting against Jews, Russians and Poles.

Sergey Kirichuk, a member of the group Borotba, which publishes and anti-fascist magazine in Ukraine, told Channel 4 News that these neo-Nazis are the most violent elements on the streets. “They are the ones throwing molotovs and trying to kill policemen… Svoboda are leading ideologically now. Fascism is like a fashion now, with more and more people getting involved.”

What about people? Ordinary people like my uncles, aunties, cousins, nieces and nephews? They can only hope that their beautiful country won’t turn into a Hell on Earth. 😦

Let’s pray for the safety and well-being of all hard-working peaceful people in Ukraine – for dear Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Poles and all the other people living in that beautiful land. Pray with us too, dear grandma and granddad, from your resting place to keep peace.

Pray
From Please Pray for Ukraine

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THE END

The woman with the blue eyes

by Maxim Gorky
1895
translated by Margaret Wettlin

( ‘A stranger’ by Ilya Glazunov )

      Assistant Police Officer Podshiblo, a fat and melancholic Ukrainian, was sitting in his office twisting his moustache and staring balefully out of the window into the yard of the police-station. It was dark and stuffy in the office and very quiet, the only sound being the ticking of the clock pendulum as it monotonously counted off the minutes. Out in the yard it was so bright and inviting!…

The door opened behind him and someone came into the office… Podshiblo turned round and glared at the policeman…

“There’s a woman asking – ”

“What’s that?”

“A woman -”

“What kind of a woman?”

“A tall one – ”

“Idiot! What does she want?”

“To see you -”

“Ask her what for. Get out!”

“I did ask her. She won’t tell. Says she wants to speak to Your Honour herself.”

“Damn these women! Have her come up. Is she young?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, show her up. Quick, now,” said Podshiblo in milder tones. He straightened up and leafed through some papers  on his desk, and his glum countenance took on a stern official look.

Behind him he heard the rustle of a woman’s skirts.

“What can I do for you?” he asked, half turning to his client and taking her in with a critical eye. She bowed without a word and sailed slowly towards the desk, gazing at the officer with grave blue eyes that looked out from under drawn brows. She was dressed poorly and simply, like a woman of the lower middle class, wearing a shawl on her head and a worn grey cape over her shoulders whose ends she kept twisting in the slender fingers of her pretty little hands. She was tall and plump and full-busted, had a high forehead, and was more grave and stern than most women. She seemed to be about twenty-seven. She walked slowly and thoughtfully, as if saying to herself: perhaps I had better turn back.

“A fine specimen, a regular grenadier,” thought Podshiblo as soon as he caught sight of her. “One of your trouble-makers.”

“I should like to know,” she began in a deep rich voice and then broke off, her blue eyes resting uncertainly on the officer’s bewhiskered face.

“Please sit down. What is it you would like to know?” asked Podshiblo in an official tone, thinking to himself: very nice and juicy.

“I’ve come about those cards,” she said.

“Residence cards?”

“No, not those.”

“Then what ones?”

“Those that – the ones that are given to – to women,” she said falteringly, blushing crimson.

“What’s that? What sort of women?” asked Podshiblo, lifting his eyebrows and smiling playfully.

“Different sorts – who walk the streets – at night.”

“Tut, tut, tut! You mean prostitutes?” grinned Podshiblo.

“Yes, that’s what I mean.” the woman took a deep breath and smiled, too, as if it was easier for her now that the word had been pronounced.

“You don’t say! Hm. Well -” began Podshiblo, anticipating something exciting.

“It’s about those cards I’ve come,” went on the woman, dropping on to a chair with a sigh and giving her head an odd toss as if someone had struck her.

“I see. So you’re thinking of running a house? Hm.”

“No. I want a card for myself,” and she let her head fall very low.

“Oh. Where’s your old card?” asked Podshiblo as he moved his chair closer to hers and reached out for her waist, one eye on the door.

“What old card? I haven’t got any.” She threw him a swift glance but did nothing to avoid his touch.

“So you worked in secret, did you? Without being registered? Some do so. But now you want to be registered? That’s right. Safer,” said Podshiblo encouragingly, pressing his attentions on her more boldly.

“I’ve never done it before,” blurted out the woman, dropping her eyes.

“Really? How’s that? I don’t understand,” said Podshiblo with a shrug of his shoulders.

“I’m just thinking of it. For the first time I came here to the Fair,” explained the woman softly, without raising her eyes.

“So that’s it!” Podshiblo took his hand off her waist, pushed back his chair and leaned back, nonplussed.

Both of them were silent.

“So that’s how it is. Hm. You want – hm. It’s wrong, of course. And hard. That is, you see – But after all – well, it’s very strange. To tell you the truth, I don’t see how you can bring yourself to do it. That is, if what you say is true.”

Being an experienced police officer, he could see it was true. She looked too wholesome and decent to be a member of that well-known profession. The signs of the trade which stamp themselves on a prostitute’s face and manners, however inexperienced she is, were not to be found on hers.

“It’s true, on my honour,” she said, leaning towards him in a burst of confidence. “Would I bother to lie, once I had decided on such a wretched thing? Of course not. But I’ve just got to make money. I’m a widow. My husband – he was a steamboat pilot – was drowned when the ice broke last April. I’ve got two kids – a little boy of nine and a little girl of seven. And no money. Nor relatives. I was an orphan when I got married. My husband’s relatives live far away, but they never liked me – they’re well-off and they look on me as a beggar. Who can I turn to? I could go to work, of course. But I need a lot of money, more than I could ever earn. My boy studies at the gymnasium. I suppose I could file a request to have him study free of charge, but who would pay any attention to it, coming from me, a lone woman? And he’s such a smart little fellow. It would be too bad to take him out of school. My little girl, too – she needs all sorts of things. As for an honest job, there aren’t many of them to be had. And even if I did find one, how much could I make? And what could I do? Be a cook? I’d only make five roubles a month. Not rnough. Not nearly enough. While in this business, if a woman’s lucky she can make enough in one go to feed her family a whole year. One of our women made over four hundred rubles at the last Fair. With that little pile she married the forest warden and now she lives like a lady. Getting on fine. If it wasn’t for the shame – the disgrace. But judge for yourself. It’s fate, I guess. It’s always fate. If this idea could have taken root in my mind, I must be meant to carry it out. Fate put me up to it. If I make money – all well and good; if it brings me nothing but shame and misery – fate again. That’s how I see it.”

Podshiblo grasped every word she said, for her whole face spoke to him. At first she wore a frightened look, but gradually it changed to one of cold resolution.

The Assistant Policed Officer felt very uncomfortable and even a bit nervous…

“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for you. Apply to the Chief of Police. That’s his business – and the Medical Commission’s. I have nothing to do with it.”

He was anxious to get rid of her. She instantly got up, made him a little bow and glided slowly over to the door. Podshiblo watched her got with tight lips and narrowed eyes, and it was all he could do to keep from spitting after her…

“Good-bye. Thank you,” and she went out.

The Assistant Police Officer put his elbows on his desk and sat there whistling something to himself for about ten minutes.

“The bitch, eh?” he muttered out loud without lifting his head. “Children? What have children got to do with it? Humph! The hussy!”

And again he was silent for a long time.

“But life, too – if what she said was the truth. It twists a person round its little finger. Hm. Very hard on a person.”…

After a moment’s pause he summed up all the work of his brain in a deep sigh, a snap of his fingers, and an energetic ejaculation:
“The slut!”…

“I suppose I’ll see her again some time. I’m bound to,” he muttered.

And he did.

* * *

One evening as he was standing on duty outside the Main Office, he noticed her about five paces away… Five minutes later he was sitting beside her on one of the benches in the square.

“Don’t you recognize me?” he asked with a smile.

She raised her eyes and regarded him calmly.

“Yes. How do you do,” she said in a dejected tone without offering  him her hand.

“Well, how are things? … How are you making out?”…

“How am I making out? Not bad, praise the – ” She broke off and turned red.

“That’s very nice. Congratulations. Hard until you get used to it I suppose, isn’t it?”

Suddenly she leaned towards him, her face white and twisted and her mouth round, as if she wanted to cry out, but she drew back just as suddenly – drew back and assumed her old attitude.

“That’s all right. I’ll get used to it,” she said in a clear even voice, then took out her handkerchief and blew her nose loudly…

* * *

One evening of the following week, as Podshiblo was walking to the Siberian Pier, he stopped on hearing oaths, women’s shrieks, and other scandalous sounds coming from the window of a tavern.

“Help! Police!” gasped a woman. He heard some frightful clanking blows, the bumping of furniture, and a man’s deep voice that drowned out all other sounds:

“That’s it! Give it to her again, straight in the snout!”

The assistant Police officer ran quickly up the stairs, pushed his way through the onlookers clustered about the tavern door, and beheld the following sight: his acquaintance of the blue eyes was lying across a table and holding another woman by the hair with her left hand while she delivered swift and merciless blows to the woman’s swollen face with her right. Her blue eyes were narrowed cruelly, her lips tightly compressed…

Podshiblo felt the blood rush to his head; he had a wild desire to avenge someone for something, and, dashing forward, he seized the infuriated woman by the waist and pulled her away…

“So it’s you, is it? Making a scene? A row?”…

A nimble little man in a long coat explained to Podshiblo what had happened.

“Her, that one, says to this one, Your Honour: ‘you hussy,’ she says, ‘you dirty tart!’ So this one gives her a flip, and that one lets go at her with a glass of tea, and then this one grabs that one by the hair and sails into her – smack! And then another smack! The beating she gives her would do anybody credit! She’s got muscles, that woman!”

“She has, has she?” roared Podshiblo, squeesing the woman in his arms harder and feeling desire to fight himself…

The next morning she stood before him as calm and resolute as she had been the first time they met. She looked straight at him with her blue eyes and waited for him to speak first…

“How did it begin? Come now, speak up.”

“She insulted me,” declared the woman.

“Think of that! What a crime!” said Podshiblo ironically.

“She had no right to. I’m not to be compared with her.”

“Good Lord, and who do you think you are?”

“It’s need drives me to it, but she – ”

“Hm. She does it for pleasure, is that it?”

“Her?”

“Yes, her.”

“She hasn’t got any kids.”

“Enough of that, you scum. Don’t think you can get round me with those children of yours. I’ll let you go this time, but if you make trouble again I’ll give you twenty-four hours to get out of town. Away from the Fair, understand? Never fear, I know your kind! I’ll show you a thinkg or two! A troublemaker, eh? I’ll teach you, you slut!” The words rolled easily off his tongue, each one more insulting than the last. She grew pale and narrowed her eyes as she had the night before in the tavern.

“Get out!” shouted Podshiblo, bringing his fist down on the desk.

“May the Lord be your judge,” she said in a dry and threatening tone, then walked quickly out of the office…

* * *

But there were children after all – a shy, tow-headed little boy in an old worn gymnasium uniform and with a black kershief tied over his ears; and a little girl in a plaid mackintosh that was much too big for her. Both of them were sitting on some boards on the Kashin pier, shivering in an autumn wind and carrying on a quiet conversation. Their mother was standing beside them, leaning against some bales and gazing down at them with adoring blue eyes.

The little boy looked like her. He, too, had blue eyes, and he would frequently twist his head in the cap with the broken peak to smile up at her and say something. The little girl was badly pock-marked. She had a sharp little nose and large grey eyes that had a lively and intelligent sparkle. Various bundles and packages were spread out on the boards about them…

In half an hour the Kashin steamboat was to leave from this pier to go up the Volga…

His acquaintance bought tickets. In her hand she held a bulging brown purse with a roll of bank-notes sticking out of it.

“I want,” she said, “…that it, here’s how it is: the children are to go second class – to Kostroma – and I am to go third. But could I please take one ticket for the two of them? No? You’ll make an exception? Oh, thank you so much. God bless you.”

And she walked away with a beaming face. The children pressed about her, tugging at her skirt and asking for something. Shee listened and smiled.

‘Goodness gracious, I said I’d buy it, didn’t I? Would I deny you anything?”…She went to some stands near the entrance…

“Here’s some nice-smelling soap for you, Varya – sniff it! And a pen-knife for you, Petya. See, I didn’t forget.”…

The steamboat drew up at the pier. A jolt. People were thrown off balance. The woman reached out for her children and hugged them to her, glancing round with startled eyes. Seeing there was no cause for alarm, she laughed. The children did, too. The gangway was thrown down and the passengers streamed on to the boat.

“Take your time! Don’t push!” shouted Podshiblo to the crowd.

“Hey, you idiot!” he roared to a carpenter who was bristling with hammers, saws, drills, files, and other tools. “Damn it all, make way for the woman with the children! Man, what a dolt you are!” he added more gently as the woman – his acquaintance with the blue eyes – smiled at him in passing and bowed when she was on the boat…

The boat shuddered and began to move.

Podshiblo searched among the people on deck for his acquaintance, and when he had found her he doffed his cap and bowed. She responded by making a low Russian bow and crossing herself. And so she and her children went back to Kostroma…

     ( Photo by Njoy )
           

THE END.

A meek one…

from “A writer’s Diary”
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
(1876)

( Photo by Michael Tarasov )
      It was she who just started coming to me then to pawn some things. … She was so delicate and blonde, a little taller than average; she was always a little awkward with me, as if she was embarrassed. … As soon as she got her money she would turn around and leave at once. And never a word…What struck me first were the things she brought: cheap silver-plated earrings, a trashy little locket – twenty kopecks was all she’d get. And she herself knew they were worth next to nothing, but I could tell by her face that to her they were treasures. And sure enough, as I learned later, these were the only things she had left from mommy and daddy…She seemed terribly young, so young she might have been fourteen. Whereas in actual fact she was only a few months short of sixteen….At that time she was using her last resources on advertisements, and of course these were a bit presumptuous at least at first: “Governess, willing to travel. Submit offers by return mail.” But later: “Willing to accept any work: teach, serve as companion, manage household, nurse an invalid lady; have sewing skills” and so on – you know what it is! Of course, all these latter things were added to the advertisements bit by bit, while at last, when she had  reached the  point of despair, they would read: “Willing to work without salary, for board alone.”…

And so it was that she came in two days later, so pale and upset – I realized that something must have happened at home, and something really had happened. … The fact was that she had brought this icon… It was an image of the Virgin Mary. The Virgin with the Infant Jesus – an ancient, family household icon in a silver, gilded frame… I could see that the icon meant a lot to her, and she was pawning it all, frame included…

When she left I at once made my decision. That same day I went off on my final investigation and learned the remaining facts about her, right down to the most intimate details of her current life. I had learned her earlier history from Lukeria, who was than their servant and whom I had bribed several days before. …

Her father and mother had died some time ago…, and she had been left in the charge of some aunts whose way of life was rather improper; in fact, “improper” is not a strong enough word to describe them. One aunt was a widow with a large family – six little children, all close in age; the other aunt, a spinster, was a nasty old piece of work. They were both nasty, in fact. Her father had been a minor civil servant, a copying clerk who had only personal, but not hereditary, nobility. In short, the whole situation suited me to a tee. I appeared as if from another, higher world: I was still a retired junior captain from a renowned regiment, a nobleman by birth, of independent means, and so on, and as far as the pawnshop was concerned, the aunts could only look upon that with respect.

She had been enslaved to the aunts for three years, but still had managed to qualify, snatching moments from her merciless daily labor, and that signified something of her striving for what was sublime and noble! … To put it plainly, they even beat her and reproached her for every crust of bread. It ended by their planning to sell her. …

A fat shopkeeper in the neighborhood had watched the whole thing for a year…. He had already driven two wives to their graves with his beatings, and now he was looking for a third. His eye fell on her. … He started courting her and negotiating with the aunts. On top of everything else, he was a man of fifty; she was horrified.  It was at this point that she started coming to me to get money for the advertisements in The Voice. At last she began pleading with the aunts to give her just a tiny bit of time to think the matter over. They allowed her a little time, but only a little, and kept nagging at her: “We don’t know where our next meal is coming from ourselves, never mind having an extra mouth to feed.”…

I called Lukeria from the kitchen and told her to go back and whisper that I was at the gate with something urgent to tell her. I was pleased with myself… Right there at the gate, with Lukeria standing by, I explained to her… : “I’m a straightforward man, and I know the circumstances of your case.”…  I told her plainly that she would have enough food to eat, but there would be no fine dresses, theatre, or balls… Of course, I didn’t say a single word to her then about my doing her a good deed. On the contrary, quite on the contrary: “It is I,” I said, “who is the beneficiary here, and not you.” … She stood there by the gate and thought for a long time before she said, “Yes.” …

I remember Lukeria running out after me as I was leaving, stopping me on the road and saying, all in a rush: “God will reward you, sir, for taking our dear miss! Only don’t tell her that; she’s such a proud one.”…

A proud one, indeed! “I like those proud ones,” I thought. Proud women are especially beautiful when … well, when you have no more doubts about your power over them, isn’t it so?…

Oh, the filth! Oh, the filth I rescued her from then! Why, she must have understood that and appreciated what I did! There were other ideas I savored as well. For example: I’m forty-one, and she’s only sixteen. That was alluring, that feeling of inequality; a thing like that is delectable, very delectable.

Right from the start, despite some attempt at restraint, she rushed to meet me with love, she would greet me with delight when I visited her in the evening, she would babble on (that charming, innocent babble of hers) about her childhood, her earliest years, her parents’ home, her father and mother. But I at once threw cold water on all this rapture of hers. That was just my plan, you see. When she was elated, I would respond with silence – a benevolent silence, of course … but still she would quickly see that we were two very different people and that I was an enigma. And my main point was to keep working at the enigma!  Maybe it was just for the sake of solving an enigma that I did this whole stupid thing! Strictness, in the first place. It was strictness when I brought her into my house. In short, while I went on with my daily round, quite satisfied, I created a whole system. Oh, it happend without any effort and just sprang up on its own….

So I at once set to work on the issue of money. I stressed the money question. And I stressed it so much that she began more and more to keep silent. She would open her big eyes, listen to me, look at me, and not say a word….

When I took her into my home I wanted complete respect. I wanted her to stand before me in ardent homage… Oh, I was always proud; I always wanted all or nothing. …

At first she would argue. And how she argued! But then she began to keep quiet, and at last she wouldn’t say a word; only she would open her eyes as wide as could be while she listened, such big, big eyes, full of attention. And … and apart from that  I suddenly noticed a smile, a skeptical, silent, unpleasant smile. And so it was with this smile that I brought her into my house. It’s true, of course, that she had nowhere else to go…

True enough, it was I who insisted on the silence, not she. Once or twice she had fits of affection when she rushed to embrace me but since these outbursts of hers were unhealthy and hysterical, while I needed happiness that was solid, with respect from her, I reacted coldly. And I was right: the day after every outburst we would have a quarrel.

They weren’t really quarrels, I mean, but there was silence, and it took on a more and more insolent manner on her part…  Yes, that gentle face of hers grew more and more insolent. Believe it or not, she began to find me obnoxious; I could tell that…. It wasn’t poverty that bothered her, it was my supposed stinginess in housekeeping… She herself suddenly refused to go to the theatre. And that mocking look of hers became more and more obvious… while I made my silence more and more intense.

Let me explain: I knew that a female, and especially a girl of sixteen, could do nothing other than submit completely to her husband. Women have no originality: why, that’s an axiom…

The quarrels started because she suddenly took it into her head to loan money on her own terms and to appraise articles at higher than their real value. Twice she even presumed to quarrel with me on the topic…

I spoke mildly but firmly and reasonably to her. She was sitting on the bed, looking at the floor, flicking her right toe against the carpet; a nasty smile played on her lips. Then, without raising my voice at all, I stated calmly that the money was mine, that I had the right to regard life through my eyes, and that when I brought her into my house I had hidden nothing from her…

Suddenly she jumped to her feet, all a-tremble, and – can you believe it? – suddenly started stamping her feet at me. She was a wild beast… I had never expected antics like this. But I kept my head and didn’t even make a move; once more, in the same calm voice as before, I told her plainly that henceforth I would let her have no more part in my business affairs. She laughed in my face and walked out of the apartment…

The fact is, she did not have the right to walk out of the apartment. Nowhere without me: such was the agreement made before we married. She came back toward evening; I didn’t say a word. …

After I had tea I closed the shop, went to the market, and bought an iron bedstead and a screen. On returning home, I had the bed set up in the anteroom with the screen around it. This was a bed for her, but I said not a word to her about it. She needed no words to understand… the marriage was dissolved, she was “vanquished, but not forgiven.”

During the night, she became delirious, and by morning had developed a high fever. She was in bed for six weeks…. We looked after her day and night for the six weeks of her illness – I, Lukeria, and a trained nurse whom I hired from the hospital. I didn’t begrudge the money and even wanted to spend it on her. I called in Dr. Schroeder and paid him ten rubles per visit. When she regained consciousness I spent less time around her… When she was completely oh her feet again, she quitely and without a word sat herself down in my room at a special table which I had also bought for her at that time… Yes, it’s true: we said not a word to one another. Well, actually, we did begin speaking later on, but only about quite ordinary things….

That winter I deliberately did several good deeds. I forgave two loans; I loaned money to one poor woman without a pawn. And I said nothing to my wife about it, and did not do it in order for her to find out; but the old woman herself came to thank me almost on her knees. And so the deed became known. I think that my wife truly was pleased to learn about the old woman….

Some time after four o-clock on a bright, sunny day in April, I was sitting in the shop checking my accounts. Suddenly I heard her, sitting in our room and working at her table, begin ever so softly … to sing. This new event surprised me enormously, and even now I do not understand it. Previously I had scarcely ever heard her sing – oh, perhaps in the very first days after I brought her home, when we still could rollick about, target shooting with the pistol. Then her voice was still quite strong and clear, although not always true, but very pleasant and sound. But now her little song was so weak… it was as if something in her voice had cracked and broken, as if her little voice could not cope any more, as if the song itself were ill…

Completely shocked, I remained at my place for a time; then I suddenly rose, took my hat, and went out, scarcely knowing what I was doing. At least I didn’t know where I was going and why. Lukeria came to help me with my overcoat.
“She’s singing?” I couldn’t help but ask Lukeria. She did not understand and looked at me, still uncomprehending…
“Is that the first time she’s been singing?”
“No, she sometimes sings when you’re not home,” Lukeria answered….

The poor, cracked broken note began to ring in my soul once more. I could scarcely catch my breath. The shroud was falling from my eyes! Is she could start singing in my presence, it meant she had forgotten about me – that was clear and that was dreadful. …

I ran up the stairs in a great rush… I came into the room; she was sitting in her usual place sewing, her head bent over her work. but wasn’t singing any more. She cast a passing, uncurious glance at me; in fact, it was not a glance but merely an instinctive and indifferent gesture, the kind directed at anyone who enters a room.

I made straight for her and took a chair close beside her, like one scarcely in his right mind. She glanced quickly at me, as if taking fright; I took her hand and don’t recall what I said to her – or rather, what I tried to say to her, because I couldn’t even speak properly… I was gasping for breath…

“Let’s talk … you know .. say something to me!” I babbled something stupid. How could I collect my thoughts? She shuddered and drew back in great fear, staring at my face. But suddenly I could see stern amazement in her eyes. Amazement, yes, and it was stern. She looked at me wide-eyed. This sternness, this stern amazement was like a blow that shattered my skull. “So is it still love you want? Is it love?” This was what her amazed expression seemed to be asking me, although she still didn’t say a word. But I could read everything, absolutely everything. I felt a tremor pass through my whole being and I simply collapsed at her feet. Yes, I fell down at her feet… I kissed her feet in happiness, in ecstasy…I didn’t leave her the whole evening. I kept telling her that I would take her to Boulogne to bathe in the sea – right away, this moment, in other day; that I would close the shop…; that everything would begin anew…. She listened, growing more frightened all the while… She wept. “And I thought you would just let me go on like that.” This burst forth from her involuntarily, so much so that perhaps she wasn’t even aware of saying it….Lukeria says… that after I left the house, and only some twenty minures before I came back, she suddenly went to the mistress in our room to ask something… and noticed that her icon (that same icon of the Virgin Mary) had been removed from the icon case and was standing before her on the table; the mistress, it seemed, has just been praying before it.
“What is it, ma’am?”
“It’s nothing, Lukeria, you may go… Wait, Lukeria.”
She came up to Lukeria and kissed her.
“Are you happy, ma’am?” Lukeria asked.
“Yes, Lukeria.”
“The master should have come to ask your forgiveness a long time ago, ma’am. Thanks be to God you’ve made it up.”
“That’s fine, Lukeria,” She said. “You may go now.”
And she smiled, but oddly somehow…
I looked at her, turned and went out on tiptoe, wondering about her. But suddenly I heard the window open. Right away I went in to tell her that it was still cool outside and she might catch a cold if she wasn’t careful. And I saw that she’d climbed up on the windowsill and was standing upright in the open window, her back to me, holding the icon. My heart just sank inside me, and I shouted “Ma’am, ma’am!” She heard me and made a move as if to turn toward me, but didn’t . She took a step, pressed the icon to her bosom, and leapt out the window!”I remember only that when I came through the gate she was still warm… and she was lying there with the icon.

( Photo by Kino       )
   
THE END
* * *

“The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide… A suicidal person may not ask for help, but that doesn’t mean that help isn’t wanted. Most people who commit suicide don’t want to die—they just want to stop hurting. Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously. If you think a friend or family member is considering suicide, you might be afraid to bring up the subject. But talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life.”

(From “Spotting the Signs and Helping a Suicidal Person” )

Art and Nature

(Russia, 1990s)

Tania was my best friend at University. She was a lovely girl from a very nice family. She lived with her parents and an older sister. I always envied her a bit as she had such a warm, supportive and loving family – something I did not have by then…

Tania studied German at University. One of the local newspapers offered a free opportunity to find penfriends overseas. I thought that it would be a good chance for Tania to put her language skills into practice, so for her 17th birthday I put a free ad in all German newspapers for German-speaking penfriends interested in art and nature.

She got a few nice letters, but then … I was sitting in a big auditorium waiting for the Genetics lecture when Tania came in laughing loudly.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“What ad did you put for me in Germany?” she asked.

“Nothing extraordinary – just something about a girl looking for German speaking penfriends interested in art and nature.”

Mrs Grumpynova who was teaching genetics entered the auditorium and the lecture began.

“Guess what I got the other day,” whispered Tania. “I was sitting in the living room with my mum and sister, when my mum gave me this envelope with pictures of flowers and butterflies. The art bit looked very pretty. So I opened the envelope and here came the nature – a picture of a naked middle-aged man fell out. You should have seen my mum’s face when she saw that. Surely enough just at that moment we heard my dad’s footsteps. “Hide this photo somewhere quickly,” shrieked my mum in horror, “If your dad sees that, you’ll be banned from having any penfriends from the West.” I quickly pushed this photo under the carpet just a second before my dad entered the room. My sister could not help it and burst into laughter rolling on the floor. “What’s the matter?” my dad asked with a puzzled look on his face. I tried to keep my face straight. “Nothing, darling,” said my mum with a sweet smile. “Just shared a little joke,” and she gave him a kiss.”

Tania got the photo and passed it to me. I could not help it and burst into laughter. A girl sitting next to me grabbed the photo from my hands and started laughing as well. Other girls started passing this photo along the rows and soon a Mexican wave of laughter engulfed the auditorium with all 150 girls bursting into laughter one after another. Mrs Grumpynova stopped her lecture.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. Everyone just kept laughing. Mrs Grumpynova went to the last row and got the photo.

“Who brought this photo here?” she asked angrily.

Both Tania and I stopped laughing and raised our hands. Mrs Grumpynova promptly kicked both of us out of the auditorium and continued her lecture:

“What will you get when you cross yellow and green peas?” she asked the audience.

“What will you get when you cross hedgehog and a snake?” whispered Tania standing next to me by the door.

“What?”

“A few metres of barbed wire,” she chuckled.

“Be quite”, – I said to Tania. “I want to listen to Grumpynova. We’ll have a test next week – don’t want to lose my scholarship if I get her peas wrong.”

I moved closer to the door and peeked through the key hole. Just at that moment someone opened the door.

“Ouch,” I shrieked. My right eye started turning black. “You know, Tania. As the Bible goes, ‘If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…’ …. Don’t you ever bring such photos again to the University. I can hardly see with my right eye now – don’t want to risk my left one …”

Tania laughed. A few weeks later she put an ad in all English-speaking countries for English-speaking penfriends interested in Shakespeare and Dostoevsky – that was her present for my 17th birthday…

THE END