Читать онлайн "Compartment No. 6" автора Ликсом Роза - RuLit - Страница 18

 
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He pressed his head against the cold glass of the window and shut his eyes. She thought for a moment that he’d fallen asleep, but he soon opened them again. A slash of orange sky flashed in the window. He looked at her tenderly.

‘It’s time, high time, Ivan the Terrible said, and gave the order to build the Trans-Siberian railway. Or was that Alexander the Second? Without this damned railway I could be lying around in Moscow with my honeybun in my arms. They made the railway like this to torture the poor. It could head straight to its destination in one go, but no, they have to take a piss at every godforsaken village and there are plenty of them in the Soviet countries. But on the other hand, what do I care? It could be worse. After all, we have plenty of time.’

He got up from the bed with a look of apathy on his face. He groaned, shyly put on some lighter clothes, did a couple of drunken calisthenics, sat down on the edge of the bed, and stared at the floor.

‘I work for the Mongols, bringing some good to a country where my people don’t live. It’s not snow that falls in Mongolia, it’s gravel. There are no thick forests there like we have, not a single mushroom or berry. Last year this thing happened on the job site that made every man there shit his pants. There was a comrade – let’s call him Kolya. He was a shithead, but one of us. And then a herd of those mongoloids came to the site and claimed that Kolya had knifed one of them. We told ’em, Get out of here, Russians don’t knife people. When we got to the site the next morning there was a wooden cross at the gate stuck into the ground the wrong way. That was neither here nor there, but on that cross hung Kolya, with his head hanging down. They had crucified him and poured hot tin down his throat. That’s the kind of friends those Mongols are. Their souls are as dirty as ours, though not as sorrowful.’

The train switched gears with a jerk and stopped as if it had hit a wall. They were in Achinsk. Arisa shouted that the train would be stopping for two hours. The man didn’t want to get off – the fresh air would just clear his head.

The girl jumped onto the platform and headed into a town dozing through its evening chores. She walked along the lifeless boulevard towards the town centre. A heavy sleet was falling. The city was dim and shapeless, damp, silver-grey, the white moon peeping out from a straggling carpet of curly clouds that hung over the colourful houses. She stopped to look in a delicatessen display window. It was like something by Rodchenko, the packages of vermicelli lunging for the sky like lightning. She felt something warm on her foot. A small stray dog was peeing on her shoe.

The dog looked at her with sweet button eyes and barked, revealing a gold tooth. It took a few steps, then stopped and stared at her. She could see that it wanted her to follow.

They walked along the deserted street. She couldn’t hear the sound of her own footsteps though the sleet was quickly changing to a snowfall that made its way lazily along Petrovskiy Boulevard, turned into a narrow side street, lost its strength as it reached a corner bread shop, and dried up. The cold tightened around her. The dog stopped and stood at a cellar window. The window opened and she heard a raspy voice.

‘How many?’

She thought for a moment.

‘You want two? Give Sharik three roubles.’

She took a banknote out of her pocket and, after a moment’s hesitation, handed it to the dog. The dog snapped the note up in its mouth and slipped quickly in through the window. A moment later two unlabelled liquor bottles and a quarter-rouble coin appeared on the windowsill. She picked them up, thanked the empty space, and walked along the clinking, snowy asphalt back to the train. When she got there, she handed the bottles to her startled companion.

He put the bottles into a special vodka compartment in his bag, humming, and went to sleep. When he’d slept off the worst of his blind drunk, he started to arrange some supper on the table.

After they’d enjoyed a long, lazy meal, he opened the compartment door.

‘Let the world in.’

He rubbed his temples and pinched his earlobes. Though she was tired, the girl worked on a sketch of the Siberian colonial town.

He wanted to see the drawing. He looked at it for a long time.

‘This is nothing,’ he said, tossing it back to her. ‘You don’t have any imagination, my girl. First you should draw a little river and then a pretty little bridge going over it. Over the bridge, on the other side of the river, you should draw a path that disappears into the tall grass, then a meadow beyond that, and then a forest. Along the edge of the forest you draw the glowing embers of a spent campfire. And last of all you streak the horizon with the last rays of sunset. That’s the kind of picture I could put up on the barracks wall.’

8

KRASNOYARSK LOOKED ENORMOUS AS they approached from the west. It spread out over the fields, trees, and ravines. It dried up the lakes and whittled the Ice Age stones smooth as it headed east. It tore villages to the ground and begat concrete skyscrapers. The forest of plump trees was logged off, the logged-off land became a construction site, the construction site a suburb, and the suburb fused with the city.

An icy wind raced over the low land, whirled and sent the smoke from the factory chimneys flying. The tracks branched off ever more thickly. The train jerked softly at the switches, the carriage couplings squeaked, the whole machine screeched. Finally a long, gentle braking. They were in Krasnoyarsk, a closed city, a centre of Soviet arms manufacture. It started to snow. Women in grey felt boots stopped their work cleaning the tracks and stared at the train arriving from far-off Moscow. They heard Arisa’s voice in the corridor.

‘No one gets off at this station!’

‘A peculiar city,’ the man said. ‘A prison for experts. But they do get a vacation.’

The compartment door opened. A woman the size of a newspaper stand whom the girl had never seen before glanced at her angrily and then huffed at the man.

‘I’ve been listening to your disgusting talk day after day. You belong in a mental hospital.’

The man looked out the window and puckered his chin.

The woman laughed scornfully. ‘I…’

‘Shut your trap, lard factory!’

The woman jumped in fright and took a step backwards. ‘Shame on you!’ she said.

The girl escaped past her into the corridor. The white curtains of the corridor window fluttered. The man pushed the woman out of the compartment like he would a cow.

Arisa watched the situation intently from afar before squawking at him, ‘I have half a mind to wrap your legs around your necks, the both of you!’

As the train slubbed into motion, a buzzard shot off with a shriek from the roof of a spent engine on the next track. It rose up in the bright moonlight and hovered under a cloud of green. A fleet of planes soared across the blue of the horizon over the round towers of the arms factory. The planes roared towards the centre of the city, broke the sound barrier, and disappeared into the sea of tall buildings. The train filled with the dark smell of hot metal.

     

 

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