Меня зовут Юрий. Мне было 7 лет, когда я впервые попробовал писать. Я почти уверен, что этот акт как таковой не происходил из глубинной какой-то потребности в сочинительстве, скорее я пытался уже в раннем возрасте подражать своему деду, писателю, чье имя хорошо было известно советскому читателю. Не более того — поскольку писательский зуд угас во мне спустя лишь небольшое время и не тревожил много лет. Я ловко справлялся со школьными сочинениями, на что обращали внимание мои учителя, но к тому времени я совершенно незаметно для себя подавил всякое желание творить вне школьной программы. Что меня тянет писать, я понял после окончания иняза. Я никуда не мог пристроить свой английский язык, так чтобы его по достоинству оценили, и то, что оказывалось нереализованным в пределах офиса в рабочие часы, в результате оказывалось на бумаге. И так, на английском языке, я начал чуть-чуть писать. Немного погодя, приобщив к этому занятию и русский, я начал задаваться вопросом, а не бегал ли я все это время от своего дедовского наследия, а не в этом ли мое призвание. Вопрос, на который я и сейчас не могу себе ответить, но который меня беспрестанно мучит. Решение об участии в подобном конкурсе — результат моих долгих внутренних исканий. Я надеюсь, что именно оно знаменует собой долгожданное продолжение пути, на который я ступил неуверенным шагом почти двадцать лет назад, и по которому так и не осмеливался раньше пройти. Кроме того, я увлекаюсь художественной фотографией, имею внушительную коллекцию личных снимков. На жизнь зарабатываю преподаванием английского языка, а также женат и воспитываю сына двух лет. Сейчас мне 28.
My name is Yuriy. My first literary attempts go back to when I was only 7. I am quite certain, as of now, there was no real urge to write as such behind them. Rather, there was the feeling that I had to somehow measure up to my Grandfather, a writer who had, in his day, enjoyed a great deal of popularity with soviet readers. There can’t have been anything more than that, for this itch of writing let up in a bit, and never bothered me until many years later. I seemed to display quite a skill in how I wrote my essays at school — a fact that was noted upon by teachers, but by then I had, quite without knowing it, suppressed every desire to create outside school. I identified said desire anew, shortly after I graduated with a degree in foreign languages. I couldn’t, try as I might, find where to put my English to an adequate use, and as a result much of the unspent ability ended up on paper. Thus, by degrees, I started writing in English. In a short while I started on my Russian, and for the first time in my life wondered if, maybe, I had until then been trying to escape my Grandfather’s legacy, if, maybe, this was my true calling. I still don’t have the answer to these questions, and they won’t let me rest. The decision to participate in a contest such as this has been a long time coming. I hope this might be what will finally place me back on the path, I so timidly started on some 20 years ago, and which I haven’t had the nerve to walk since then. Aside from writing, I am also keen on artistic photography and I have an impressive set of shots to show for it. I make my living out of teaching English, I am married and raising a son of two. I am now 28.
Running for life
The muffled throbbing of train wheels impressed itself upon her fearful gaze. Leeda had long been in a kind of state which finds you thousands of kilometers away from home, robbed of – so little felt when there – the crutch of all-around familiarity and the habitual stressing of words. Driven to seek recruitment in Siberia five years following the war, hardship framed her every thought, her spirits sinking, her confidence waning.
Travelling with her was Vera, a few years her junior, a victim of the restless times, still retaining the naiveté of the childhood yet unwholly spent. Images of trees rushed past lingered in the weary thoughts blurring into the edgeless present.
Inside the train’s freight car, meant for carrying both people and cattle alike, the plank floor is half empty. She feels insecurity creep in, worm-like, under her skin.
At her feet there lie a few scanty possessions. On her body there is a much-worn dress, on her head a kerchief. The youthful beauty draws glances.
Several hours into the trip. Then, finally, a stop. In the now open rollaway side door a massive figure of a man is produced, the very looks of it alone betraying contempt for criminal law, to say nothing of the common code of conduct. Slow in catching the ill-meaning look of the middle-aged male, Leeda however senses his approach, and the rising fear is soon confirmed. With no ways out, indecisively she keeps her head down, frozen in place, palms covering her eyes. Her younger companion, vaguely sensing harm, is shifting about on the planking, pressing her shoulders hard against the wall. With each step of his ambling walk both girls’ pulses quicken, behind the lidded darting eyes the youthful mind engages in self-deceit, clutching at non-existent straws, when finally, close against her, the man says, “You dolly!”. He smiles crimefully with his wide bad-toothed mouth and repeats, “You all alone here, beautiful?” Leeda wasn’t following his movements, the way he spoke: she kept her eyes hidden behind the palms tightly pressed against her face, similar to a child sheltering under a blanket from monsters of the night. “Dolly, I say, you come along now, make you a queen”.
Crime was at its all-time high, spreading quickly in the ailing society still struggling to rebuild itself after the war. Leeda had solid reasons for fear.
Her position was grave, her body shivering. The man wouldn’t go away. Obscene horrors flickered before her eyes. Through the slits in her palms the eyes were seeking help. The silent witnesses of the unfolding scene, men and women, would not have part in this. Greedily feasting on what was happening, their backs erect, the passengers continued to be treacherously uninvolved. Horror gripped her tighter yet. Then the man made as if to go, and — a relief! — he did. With a deep and loud sigh, Leeda cast a look at her charge. Vera felt easier at once. Still, in his going there was a suspicious hint of continuation. Ever conscious of it, Leeda could not – without lying to herself — embrace her relief. In time the train started, and in the half-opened door there were those same pine-trees. “So they never went anywhere”, she thought abstractedly. Then wheels were throbbing yet again.
Their hearts sank again when at the next stop just before departure they saw a whole gang of five with the new acquaintance among them. They started her way.
“Run! But where? If only off the train and into the forest. This almost certainly means death. Still, better this than be dishonored?” — the girl ran through her modest options. “If only I had the heart to do so!”
“Here, dolly, you look at us all so many. And you all alone. You come, fear not, we’ll do right by you”.
The dead uninvolved silence persisted. The indifferent wheels knocking. “Help will not be coming – that is for certain. What, then, will be? Getting used by all of them at once and them shoving me off the train when done is what. That’s what’s coming. No soul will ever find me, not even look for me and know how I turned out”. She thought of her mother then.
“You’ll be coming the hard way then”.
Spellbound with fear, yet curious, the onlookers shamefully thirsted for the conclusion of the unfolding scene. But then luck seemed to finally smile on Leeda. The train was noticeably slowing down towards a station. The gang, it seemed, had too little confidence to persist in the presence of the station-based law enforcement. They got off here. Presently a feeling of relief swept over the girl, the like of which she had not known in a long time. As much aware as she was that, come departure, the gang would still be there, she also felt the experience had steeled her. The stop was to last several minutes, and she had only so much time to stock up on some bread and butter — the mainstay of those days’ passenger diet. She had to crawl her way to the vendor’s stall under four trains which stood in between – something which required skill — more still considering the shorter timeframe. She tasked Vera with getting the bread — herself, she went for the butter. She came to a line of about ten people that was moving up very slowly. If she wants it done in time, she should already be heading back to the train. Ah, there it is – the whistle! And off starts the train. Vera comes running along with the bread and is then sent off to the train. Four more to go in the line! The train heard picking up speed.
“The documents are going too! And money, and things!” With no documents you are as good as done for. Nobody will ever bother finding out what you really are. The police will only have more fun at your expense, “Papers left behind, are they, huh? Never made it on the train? Tall story! Now get off!” Lucky if they press no further. Might as easily be as bad as that gang.
Impatience burned hard in her. She’s up next. A quick exchange of money for butter follows. And then, as if her very life depended on how fast she’d go, she rushed after the train. On her haunches she cleared the four tracks only to see her train several hundred meters distant, accelerating. She mustered what strength she had and ran for it along the much-trodden paths. Her eyes were fixed on the train she was gaining on, her mind was frantic with speculations on the possible outcomes “what if… what if I don’t make it?” That would seal her fate. Her heart was beating furiously, its pounding flooding her throat, making her choke on it. The distance, it felt, grew ever more impossible to cover with each second. But run she did. Seconds were eternally long, and her strength dwindled unrelentingly fast. Minutes afterwards, she caught up with the tail car and was about to throw herself into the open door when, stretched out to pull her in, she saw hands belonging to none other than the gang of five. They wore cunning smiles and kept saying, “You did come, love! Come, reach out your hand, we’ll treat you real good, won’t we boys?”. In her mind Leeda had relived the tragedy of this close encounter many times now, and now bitterly desperate, she would rather throw herself under the wheels and be done with it. Better die now, than let these brutes have their disgusting way, and suffer so much more. Despair. And presently, Leeda began losing speed and the train was once again faster.
Hers was the next car up. To live in the face of death is an unparalleled craving. She found the strength for the final charge, when she couldn’t ever have under less demanding circumstances. Her car companions were all holding out their hands and shouting at the top of their voices for her to keep up, to keep on running. She drew abreast of her car. Shifting focus from running to the car, she took a fracture of a second to assess how best to get in. At the bottom of the car there was attached a cord twisted into what worked as a footstep. “Now, this is where I will either live or die”. She flung inside the chunk of butter that she’d found herself still holding on to and, the next thing she knew, she had her palms stuck to the floor. Without anywhere to brace her feet against, she was struggling to get into the loop. When she finally succeeded, she dived feet-first under the floor keeping inches away from the wheels.
[paragraphs omitted; see full version for more]
The train was taking Leeda away to the unknown, where to live or die is a matter of luck.