Читать онлайн "Compartment No. 6" автора Ликсом Роза - RuLit - Страница 20


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He poured his glass full, took a gulp, and quickly bit off a mouthful of green onion, grunting to himself and glancing at her tensely, an amused look on his face.

‘Are all Finnish women as dry and cold as you? Russian women are the kind of whores that once you’ve fucked them they start farting. I know you’re not like that.’

When he’d emptied the cognac he wheezed heavily, pointed at the bottle that had no label, and said in a muddy voice, ‘Splitting headache. Ought to drink this one, too.’

The girl withdrew into the corridor. The train rattled steadily onward. An old man stood on the roof of a crooked house next to the tracks shovelling snow. A rusty stream wound from behind the house through the expanse of white and disappeared into the darkness of the limp eternal forest. The rugged forest would soon swallow up everything. Someone was yanking roughly on an accordion at the other end of the carriage. The clatter of the train and the sharp, slashing, Slavic sounds of the accordion sent her into a liberating torpor. She imagined the winter landscape as summer, saw a lemon-yellow meadow, a forest’s hot, shimmering outline, birches reddened by a setting sun, cool, dark shadows of fields, a little billowing cloud.

She went eventually, reluctantly, again to the door of the compartment and opened it warily. The man was lying in his own bunk like a corpse.

She tiptoed to her bed and sat down. The air was damp, the constantly brewing tea had steamed up the compartment, made the air heavy. A thick string of slobber oozed from the side of the man’s mouth. His face was tranquil, as if he had forgiven every sorrow he’d had in life. She undressed and got into her bunk, beloved from use. She thought of Mitka, how he cut open an apple with his bone-handled knife and handed her half. Mitka, who smelled of soap and grass. Mitka, who was listless and lazy, but a good swimmer and a chess champion at school.

And the day faded into dusk, and the dark of night froze into the blue of dawn in the window. A yellow moon swept away the last morning star as it made way for a fiery sun. A new day was before them. All of Siberia slowly brightened. The man in his blue tracksuit bottoms and white shirt did push-ups between the bunks, sleep in his eyes, his mouth dry and smelly, the mucousy smell of sleep in the compartment, no breath from the window, tea glasses quietly on the table, crumbs silent on the floor. A new day. Yellow, frosty birches, pine groves, animals busy in their branches, a fresh snow billowing over the plains. Flapping white longjohns, limp penises, mitts and muffs and cuffs and flowered flannel nightgowns, shawls and wool socks and straggly toothbrushes. The night speeds through the dark into dim morning, a dogged queue at the shrine of the WC, a dry wash among the stench of pee, sputum, shame, sheepish looks, steaming tea glasses, large flat cubes of Cuban sugar, paper-light spoons, black bread, Viola cheese, sliced tomatoes and onion, roasted torso of young chicken, canned horseradish, hard-boiled eggs, salt pickles, a jar of mayonnaise, a tin of fish.

Night escapes into a new day. Snow rises from the ground up the tree trunks, the silence fading in their upper branches, a hawk perched on an orange cloud, looking down at the slithering worm of train.


THE RAILS TANGLED, the train rocked wildly, then a screech of brakes like glass scraping against sheet metal. The train stopped in Siberia’s capital, at Irkutsk station. It spent two days there.

The yellow-ochre, white-cornered station building stood barren in its accustomed spot. In front of it the stationmaster stood, stock still, watching the train arrive. The girl turned over on her side and was assaulted by disconnected memories and impressions, people she hadn’t seen in ten years. When she woke up she was wet with sweat.

The man looked at her compassionately and it felt good to her.

‘Another person’s soul is a dark chasm,’ he said quietly. ‘But let the soul be. Let’s go hunting. Hunting for food!’

She dressed quickly, he slowly, with a sort of dignity. He put on an old greenish suit coat, buttoned it tightly, combed his hair back like a dandy. Last, he pulled his shoes out from under his bunk. They were some kind of fur-lined, sturdily made army boots with split tops and hard-edged heels.

They were met on the platform by a mild spring chill, silent snowflakes, and an old dog with a large femur dangling from its mouth, its tail wagging.

It was warm and dry inside the station. Glum travellers loitered in the corners, drifters sat on wooden benches in heavy winter clothes. A quiet hum of talk trickled from the people on the benches. At one end of the station was a café with a round window in the far wall, the winter light pressing through it like raindrops into the samovar-steamed air.

They came out through a low side door. They found the vendors next to the wall of the station among the frost-heaved pavement. The man greeted the old women with a wave of his hand but chose to approach an old man with a brimless cap on his head. The codger’s table was covered in dried mushrooms. The man chatted with him for a moment and then handed him a set of socket wrenches made in China. The older man examined them for a long time before he reached under the table and took out a few cured Baikal salmon and a box of grilled whitefish.

Next they went to the table of a woman in a black scarf. Behind her was a smoking rotisserie of pure white, poorly plucked chicken carcasses. All she was selling was three eggs.

The man counted out a pile of one-, two- and three-kopeck coins into her hand.

They lurked among the vendors a little longer. There was a familiar smell, a combination of garlic, vodka, and sweat. The man bought some tea grown in Irkutsk, sour milk tarts, pretzels and sugared bubliks, the girl bought biscuits from Tula, Gold Label biscuits, and pryanikis.

They went over the footbridge. The airy early spring sun tinged the powdery new-fallen snow with pink, and Irkutsk seemed like a whole city in miniature made of marzipan. The air was sharp and thin; the man was panting. A flock of sparrows flew over their heads, their wings whistling. The man and the girl stood quietly for a long time. By the permanently closed back door of the station a pile of waste was covered in bright white powdery snow where a couple of dozen filthy stray cats capered about. A well-fed owl perched on a rotting cross of wood left on the rubbish heap and followed their movements closely. They walked to the kiosks. The snow glittered on the kiosk roofs and around the bottoms of the lampposts. The girl took off her cap and let her hair fall over her shoulders. She joined the long, cheery queue formed between two railings for the tobacco stand and the man joined the talkative and argumentative queue for newspapers. He bought a Pravda and a Literaturnaya Gazeta. With the change he bought a piece of rock-hard Lolek chewing gum, made in the DDR. After lengthy negotiations, the girl managed to purchase a pack of Primas and some Baikal papirosas. The vendor refused to sell her any Belomorkanals for some reason, although there was a whole shelf full of them. When she gave the Primas to the man he turned them over in his hand for a moment, looking at the spacecraft on the package.

‘Baikals smell like dog piss. Primas taste like horse shit and Brezhnev. Belomorkanals, on the other hand, smell like the real Papa Stalin.’

They walked along the station platform back towards their compartment. A few light spring snowflakes mixed with the smell of smoke in the air. The girl looked up and let the snow fall on her face. The man stared back at the kiosks.

‘I’ve never seen a Georgian standing in a queue before. Now I’ve seen everything.’

They were just finishing cleaning the train carriage. The carriage staff had taken out the carpets; Sonechka vacuumed the canvas-covered floor and Arisa cleaned the WC and wiped the doorknobs and corridor railing with a wet black cloth. The man and the girl slipped into the compartment once Arisa and Sonechka had put the carpet back in place. They spread some of their purchases on the table and started preparing breakfast together.



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