Читать онлайн "Sashenka" автора Себаг-Монтефиоре Саймон Джонатан - RuLit - Страница 92

 
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She had loved Samuil for nearly thirty years and they had been together for more than twenty: his family was her family. She had mourned him and grieved in the stoical silence of the times.

She never blamed Samuil for keeping her in Russia—they had been happy together. And it had been such a blessing that she had not been arrested but was still working in the café, healthy and prepared, waiting for him to return. Here he was, her Samuil, alive and back from the camps, returned from the dead.

She kissed his face and his hands, smelled his male smoky biscuit smell. He was almost as she remembered.

He opened his eyes as if he couldn’t quite believe where he was, smiled, and went back to sleep.

Lala stroked his skin, the parchment of the Gulags, and wondered how, and when, to tell him about the heroism of his daughter, what had happened in the railway station just a few weeks ago, and how together she and Sashenka had saved Snowy and Carlo.

PART THREE

The Caucasus, London, Moscow, 1994

1

“Three hours, twelve minutes and eighteen seconds until the train for London!” Katinka Vinsky cried out, running to her window in her pink nightgown, almost slipping on the wrinkled yellow carpet, throwing open the brown, damp-stained curtains. She caught a glimpse of herself smiling in the mirror and behind her a chaotic bedroom with clothes everywhere, and a half-filled carpetbag. It was dawn in the bungalow cottage on the main street of Beznadezhnaya, a village on the Russian borderlands of the north Caucasus, remote enough for locals to say that it was “lost in deafness.”

“Mamochka! Papochka! Where are you?” she called, opening her door.

Then she saw the doctor and his wife, already dressed, in the kitchen–cum–sitting room. She knew her father would be reassuring her mother that their daughter’s trip would be all right, that they would be at the station early enough, that the seat on the train was booked (facing the right way, because their darling felt sick if she had her back to the direction of the train), that the train would arrive in time for her to catch the bus to Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow to check in for the Aeroflot flight to Heathrow. Her mother was reassuring her father that Katinka would have enough food for the journey and that she had the right clothes for London, where, it was said, the rain never stopped and the fog never cleared. They were, Katinka decided, much more nervous than she was.

Katinka knew her parents were of two minds about her accepting the mysterious job in London. They had been so proud when she received the top grades in history at Moscow University, but when her professor, Academician Beliakov, showed her the advertisement in the Humanities Department Gazette, her father had begged her not to go. What sort of people lived in London and were rich enough to hire a historian? he asked. But Katinka could not resist it. Researching a family history, tracing the vanished past…She imagined a cultured young Count Vorontsov or Prince Golitsyn living in a dilapidated London town house full of ancient samovars, icons and family portraits, keen to find out what had become of his family, their palaces and works of art dating from the eighteenth century, her period, her speciality. She wished she’d been born in those more elegant times…

She had never been abroad before, although she had spent three years at the university in faraway Moscow. No, the offer was too good to miss: young historians specializing in eighteenth-century history do not often get the chance to earn much-needed U.S. dollars and travel to London.

Katinka’s father, Dr. Valentin Vinsky, was smoking a cigarette and pacing the floor while her mother Tatiana, a soft, feathery creature with bright red-dyed hair, busied herself in the kitchen with her mother-in-law, Babushka—or Baba for short. Through the fog of cooking, Baba, a low-slung, broad-shouldered peasant in a floral dress, scarlet kerchief and some old surgical socks held up with elastic, moved slowly like a dinosaur in the mist.

Steam rose so densely, so aromatically, from the bubbling pots of vegetable broth that it was hard to see the two women. It was as if the nourishing humidity had warped the entire house. Like a million Soviet homes, everything inside, carpets, curtains and clothes, was yellowed with steam and damp and grease.

“There you are!” said Katinka, bounding into the room. “How long have you been up?”

“I didn’t sleep a wink!” her father replied. He was tall and dark-skinned with brown eyes. Though his grey hair was thinning and he was always exhausted, Katinka thought he looked like one of those handsome forties film stars. “Everything packed?”

“Not so fast, Papochka!”

“Well, you must hurry…”

“Oh Papochka!” Father and daughter hugged, both with tears in their eyes. The family were always quick to cry and Katinka, the youngest of three children and a beloved afterthought, was its soft-hearted and much-indulged core. Her father was a thoughtful man. He did not laugh much; in fact, he did not say much at all and when he did he was tortuously inarticulate—yet he was worshipped virtually as a god in the neighborhood, where he had delivered the babies of babies he had delivered and even their babies. “I can’t imagine how I’ve brought up such a confident, loquacious child as you, Katinka,” he once told her. “But you’re the light of my life. Unlike me, you can do anything!” He was right—she knew she possessed all the assurance of a child utterly cherished in the happiest of families.

“Your food’ll be ready, don’t you worry, girl,” said Baba, her gums almost bare of teeth. “Go and wake up Bedbug or he’ll miss your departure!” “Klop,” or Bedbug, was Sergei Vinsky, Katinka’s grandfather.

Katinka trotted down the corridor toward the bathroom, passing her little bedroom with its single unit of bed, light and bedside table (standard Soviet issue) and its curling posters of Michael Jackson.

She heard the faucet running in the bathroom as she called out to her grandfather. The bathroom door opened and she met the rich, sweet distillation of Bedbug’s bowels and the familiar stale damp of old towels that was another ingredient of the provincial fug of home. Bedbug, a small weathered countryman in an undershirt and pouchy grey briefs, emerged from a bathroom that was so overshadowed by hanging laundry that it resembled a gypsy tent. Resting his hands on his hips and chewing his gums, he let rip an ungodly fart of orchestral proportions.

“Hear that? Good morning and good luck, dear girl!” and he cackled hoarsely. It was the same every morning at home. Katinka was used to it—but since her return from the university she had observed its customs with more detachment.

“Disgusting! Worse than a farmyard!” she said cheerfully. “At least in a farmyard the animals aren’t rude too. Come on, Bedbug, hurry up! Breakfast’s ready. I’m leaving soon!”

“So? Why should I hurry? I have my rituals!” He nodded at the Soviet lavatory with its unique basin-like design (guaranteed to preserve its fetid cargo as long as possible), and grinned.

“Yes, Bedbug, and no one enjoys their rituals like you. But you are coming to see me off?”

“Why bother? Good riddance!” More cackling. “Wait, Katinka! I’ve heard about a new murder on the radio! There’s a serial killer in Kiev who eats his victims, brains, livers and all, can you believe it?”

     

 

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