Chapter Twenty Four: Chimkent

I searched a while for the street called Karl Liebknecht.  Yet no one could tell me exactly where it was located.  Finally, I figured it out and stopped at the main post office on Soviet Street, where they told me how to get there.  Locals knew the street by its old name “Eighth Curve.”  Just when I asked how to find Eighth Curve, people pointed me the exact way.  Effortlessly I found the street and the house I required.

I knocked on the gate.  An elderly came out and asked what I wanted.  I answered her that I had arrived from Karaganda to my sister Pasha and her husband Ivan.  She answered that they indeed lived there, but they were not home at the moment.  They were at a construction site nearby.  A girl with big eyes came out and took me along the street.  We became acquainted on the way.  Her name was Nadya.

My sister and brother-in-law were building nearby half a block away where a section of land was cordoned for them and cut from their neighbors.  At that time, properties in town were even larger, around 25-30 mills.  My brother-in-law was assigned a property of 8 mills.  They had already built walls for the home from clay adobe.

We had a happy reunion.  It had been so long since we had seen each other.  How much water flowed under the bridge, and so many events had taken place.  We had endless questions and stories.  So I blended into the new family and became its newest member.

My brother-in-law Ivan and I had good relations.  He was a sumptuous young man of stature, a Siberian from a Christian family.

In 1944, under pressure from the Allies who opened the second front during the war, the government permitted a church building to be opened on Third Curve at the very edge of the city.  The good news spread throughout the whole city and surrounding villages.  Despite persecution which took place throughout the country, now having received freedom, people with joy could gather in the house of prayer.  Brothers walked 30 or even 40 kilometers on foot from the surrounding villages just to be at the worship services.  At that time there were no buses neither private automobiles.  Despite this, the house of prayer was constantly filled with people.  This was the true fulfillment of the words of the Lord who said:

“He…  opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.”  (Revelation 3:8)

The Lord ordained that the church was to be under persecution in order to test her faithfulness, so that the persecuted and outcast people of God would endure all forms of trials and imprisonment.  Now the Lord gave His people reason to rejoice, for He gave freedom to preach His Word, which with renewed strength was spread throughout the country, reaching its remotest corners.

People were drawn to the Source of light, and churches everywhere began to grow and multiply.  That was the case in Chimkent.  The Zudilin family who owned the apartment where we lived were Christians.  The owner of the house and my brother-in-law also sang in the choir as tenors.  Often they invited me to the prayer meetings.  I sat in the general pews and heard the Word of God, but it did not penetrate my heart because of the sin deeply entrenched in it.  I liked the choir singing as well as the general singing of Christian hymns.  Out of respect to my brother-in-law and sister, I began to visit services regularly, but in my free time I led an utterly different lifestyle.

Within me dwelled a different form of energy.  Outside with new male and female friends, we played all kinds of games.  After the games, I would tell my audience about my adventures.  My vocabulary consisted partly of criminal slang and the other half crude and vulgar words.

Out of habit, sometimes my conversations with sister and brother-in-law let out crude language.  Naturally they made me feel ashamed and asked me to change my language.  Having come into totally foreign circumstances, logically I did what I could to control my language and behaviors, though it was very difficult for me.  Gradually and secretly I continued to smoke.  By day I watched my language, and at night I tied a kerchief around my mouth so that my obscenities would not be heard when I slept.

By the fall the new house was ready, and we moved into it.

The time had come to think about school.  My brother-in-law and I went to the school called Klokov.  We stopped by the office of the principal and asked him to enroll me in the seventh grade.  The principal looked at my documents and saw my prominent grade of “1” for behavior.  She never had such students before.  She advised me to seek another school.  They advised us to go to Oblono and explain my situation there.  Once they heard us out, the people at Oblono called the school at Klokov and convinced the principal to enroll me in the seventh grade under a probationary period of one month.

So I enrolled as a student in the seventh grade in class B.  And I started to attend that school.  How difficult it was to restrain myself in order not to cause trouble in my classes, but nevertheless I firmly held my cool.  At the end of the month long probation, our class teacher, Idita Frantseva, the German teacher, told me, “Peychev, I cannot believe that you received a grade of 1 for the year for behavior.  I cannot believe that such a student could calmly sit for an entire month in class without once even but pinching his neighbor, let alone causing some greater trouble.”

And she lauded me before all the students.  I studied well.  I had an outstanding visual memory.  I loved to read a lot.  Even when I was living at the boarding school, still being such a mischievous boy, I found time to read books.  Just when they turned off the lights and everyone went to sleep, I began to tell jokes and stories that I heard from the prisoners to the guys in my room.  My stories took a long time to end because I kept on making up their continuation.  When I sensed that no one was listening anymore, since they fell asleep, then I called out to some guys.

“Vanka, are you sleeping?”  Silence.

“Grishka, are you sleeping?”  Silence.

Then being convinced that everyone was asleep, I got up, turned on the light, and got a book from under my pillow.  Turning my head on my pillow and lying on my stomach, I read for a long time.

So when I studied in seventh grade, I always had a “5” (A) in Russian penmanship, composition, and writing, as well as dictation.  I loved to read books aloud.  I particularly remember a book called “Redhead.”  The fate of the hero of this book was similar in many ways to my own.

I devoured all kinds of books, including novels, fantasies, and children’s books.  I also loved history and geography.

And then I finished the seventh grade.  In those years, compulsory education lasted only seven grades.  I had the desire to go to work.  But my brother-in-law advised me to go to technical school for, as he liked to say, the shovel will not depart far from me.  I sent my documents to the hydroengineering technical school at Kzyl Orda and awaited their answer.

But in order not to be lazy, I found work in a state administration as a surveyor.  I worked all summer as I dragged around with me a 20 meter measuring tape, signs, and rail.  I got money which I gave to my sister.  We spent evenings in noisy games.

Kreger Street where we lived was wide and overgrown with green grass.  Almost no cars drove on it, not even bicycles.  There were no light vehicles in those years in Chimkent.  In the entire city there were no more than 2 or 3 buses, and even those never came to our part of town.  So we played on the whole street, and no one ever bothered us.  My favorite game was lapta.  Even adults played with us.

By the fall, not waiting for an answer from the technical school, I quit my job at the state administration and found work in the engineering team for “Kazgiprodenergo”.   The work included business travel.  Our reconnaissance brigade headed by our leader Zolotaryovy conducted the mapping of the canal Arys-Turkestan.  It was easy to carry the bag with pegs, measuring tape, stakes, signs, and rail.  The workday began with the rays of the sun and ended with the rays of the moon.  All day we took no pity, nor could we take pity on our health, as we worked as some cowards.  Sometimes we wore shirts.  Under the hot, dry, southern sun we became black like Africans.  The salt from our sweat came out on our skin, and our shirts became sticky from sweat.

All the workers were young men from 15 to 18 years of age in perfect health and strongly energized by good money.  We were not home for 3 or 4 months.  When we arrived home, we paraded about our peers like kings and tried to look mature.  Naturally, when you have money, you have friends.

Here it is appropriate to recall the parable of the prodigal son in the Bible.  So long as he had money, he had friends.  When the money ran out, the friends disappeared.  That is what happened with me.

I had a friend named Pyotr Bushuyev.  We became very close to one another.  When I came for a visit home after my business trip, we got together and spent time hanging out with our peers, boys and girls.  I paid for all the expenses for drinking liquor since he neither worked nor studied in school.

Once, when my money ran out and a week before my next business trip, my friend Pyotr stopped coming to see me and tried not even to look me in the eye.  But at one of my final evenings, walking by the “American”, I saw Peter in the company of new friends.  “Americans” as we called them in those years were “fast food joints” scattered throughout the city, just about on every street corner.  There you could without any special conveniences get something to eat and drink on the run.  So my friend Pyotr and his circle of friends were standing at one of these “Americans.”

He saw me and turned away as if he had not noticed me.  The next evening he did not appear.  It hurt to tolerate such betrayal from my friend, or so I considered him.  Although he was a good friend, in the moment of difficulty, when he discovered that my money had run out, he joined a new circle of friends.  This was a good lesson for me to make me more careful about choosing friends in the future.

Of course, I did not spend all my money away on drinking.  When I returned from my trips, I gave a lot of it to my sister Pasha.  This money paid for her to sew a new custom dark suit and to buy rain boots, a hat, and a jacket.

I looked more handsome and the girls outside looked on me favorably.  There were not that many guys in the postwar years who could be seen in such suits.

After the evening games, we split off into pairs in dark corners and played the game of love.  There was not one girl of ours whom I did not like in reality, so I spent time with one, then another, without giving anyone preference.  It once happened that because of me several girls from our company got into a fight and scratched each other on the face.  In the evening, our neighbor Aunt Katya told my sister, “Your Vitka is totally to blame.”

I really did like one girl, Vera Firsova.  However, she was in a different crowd and rarely spent time with us.  For some reason, I got lost in her presence and never could find a way to approach her.

Once I arrived with a good sum of money and got acquainted with the different crowd.  There were guys who were older and worked like me.  The girls here were also more mature.  We gathered in a house on Dostoyevsky Way where one poor widow and her daughter Natasha lived.  The guys put down their money, bought vodka and beer, and the girls cooked food.  All this took place not far from our house.

We gathered on evenings and drank “yersha” – a mixture of vodka and beer.  We then ate what our girlfriends prepared.  Then we sang songs from the time of war, “Katyusha” and many others.  Then gaining our courage, we danced waltzes and foxtrots which were in style at that time.  I did not like to dance because it was difficult for me to find a dance partner given my short height.

But on the other hand, I loved to hop, and I could do that very well.  I loved to beat out a “tap dance”.  When we danced, frequently I stepped on the girl’s foot or she stepped on mine.  The dance did not work out.  Where I learned to hop, I have no idea even to this day.

I had my music – guitars, mandolins, and even harmonicas.  I quickly picked up on the mandolin.  Evenings were happy, noisy, and lasted late until 2 or 3 in the morning.  Then getting our courage up, we dispersed into the city night, some by themselves, others in pairs.  I remember after such evenings, when I returned home, the door was always unlocked.  I quietly went to my corner, got undressed, and went to bed.  In the morning naturally we had an unpleasant conversation with my sister and brother-in-law, but they could not persuade me otherwise.

I carried on with my young party life.  Although on Sundays at the persistent request of my sister and brother-in-law, I went to the prayer meetings. I agreed with them that I needed to end my sinful way of life, but I continued to remain by myself and was unable to change my life.

Once at the very peak of another evening out, when we got up the gumption to dance and hop, suddenly the door in the room opened.  At the foot of the door appeared a huge boss of a man (as we learned later, this was the widow’s brother).  Apparently he heard on several occasions what took place in his sister’s house and came over to take a look and be convinced himself.  Out of shock such a silence ensued that you could hear your own heartbeat.

A tense silence ensued for 5 minutes. Then, the man put a shovel against the wall.  He ordered us, “Well, guys, one at a time, get out of here!”

Insanity arose.  Everyone took his clothes and hat in his hand and ran out onto the street.  During our exit, he received a farewell punch in the back and a kick in the rear.

Suddenly, the room emptied.  The girls hid in another room.  I alone remained.  Unable to find my coat and cap, I slowly came up to the sphynx.  He raised his fist, and when he wanted to punch me in the head, I suddenly reacted, jumped on him, and punched him under the nose.  The crackle of a wooden post and a terrible howl of anger rang out.  He yelled, “Just you wait!”  But I was too far out on the dark street.

A light rain fell, but my boots, raincoat, and cap remained there in the house where we were having fun.  And suddenly I was ashamed and angered by my cowardliness.  Even though there were 10 of us guys, not to mention how many girls, we were still intimidated by this jerk?  Even we could crush him, tie him up and throw him outside, just like he threw us out.  And suddenly such bravery welled up inside of my breast that right at that moment I turned around and bravely marched toward that house where the conqueror remained.  Suddenly in my head I had a plan: in case of attack, I would give him a quick blow to the groin.  When the opponent would double over in pain, I would carry out a sharp punch to his Adam’s apple.  Victory would be assured!

I courageously entered the yard and saw a masculine figure standing in the darkness by an apple tree.  Dim light from the window shined on him.  He held the shovel with one hand and a cigarette in the other.

Without saying a word, I proceeded to the room.  I removed the raincoat, put on my shoes, and wore my cap on my wet head.  Then calmly with a firm step I went outside.

The flames of the cigarette in the garden did not budge.  I have no idea what happened to that Goliath.  Maybe he was truly shocked by my courage that I returned by myself, or else he got lost in thought about what had just occurred, that he alone chased off the partying youth without running into any resistance.  In any event, no one chased me.  I arrive home earlier and went to sleep.

The next day our whole crowd met at the nearest “American” to discuss what happened the other day.  We all were in accord that we had cowered and had run away in panic.  We were all ashamed, especially before our ladies.  So we resolved in that same spirit to devise a plan.  If he chose to show up again, then no one would run off but would give him a worthy resistance.

So we acted accordingly.  The first evening we gathered again at the very hospitable hostesses’ home and continued our partying. Our guest of last night no longer came, apparently having soberly judged that things might not have worked out so well the second time.  So he left us in peace.

By winter I received a promotion in responsibilities working for the engineering crew.  From a line worker I became a junior surveying technician.  This is how it happened.  In our group there was one young female practitioner from the Alma-Aty Hydraulic Technical School.  Her name was Valya.  She headed the survey of land for a future canal.  I carried the surveying rod.  Each evening she recorded the measurements in her journal, but she found an unacceptable technical measure.  The next day we redid the work of the day before, and it was unpleasant for both of us.

During smoking breaks, I asked one of the guys to hold the rod, while I myself became the surveyor and began to teach myself how to take measurements.  I asked Valya to verify the accuracy of my measurements.  When she verified them, she confirmed that they were done correctly.  She taught me how to adjust the rod and the method of surveying.

Once after our routine check of a track we had gone over, I proposed Valya to change places.  I took the survey, and Valya held the rod.  I worked in her place the entire day.  Valya rechecked my measurements and was pleased with my work.  The measuring error turned out to be minor and tolerable.

From that time secretly kept from the boss of the brigade, every morning a car brought us to the needed track zone.  I took the survey, Valya took the rod, and we successfully carried out our work.

But then it happened that the director of the brigade demanded to verify something in our area.  He caught us – me in the role of the technician and Valya with the rod in her hands.  He knew about the frequent editing of her work.  When he took the journal out of my hands, he immediately understood it all.

In the evening he summoned me to his tent and checked all our surveying journals.  He praised me.  Then in detail he inquired about my family situation and learned that since the age of 5, I had lived in an orphanage because my parents were sentenced to the concentration camps.  He asked me what I wanted to do in the future.  I told him that I applied to study at the Kzyl-Orda Hydraulic Technical School, but for some reason did never received an answer.

Then he told me, “The fact is, Viktor, you are an orphan.  It will be very difficult for you to study 4 years at a technical school because you have no hope of getting financial support.  You have the gift of adaptation.  You can even say that you are a technician.  Spend the winter in the office, and we will equip you with the material you need.  Whatever you do not understand, we will help you with it.  By spring we will graduate you as a junior technical prospector.  Do you agree?”

Of course, I accepted with joy, and soon they sent Valya and me to Chimkent.  They placed her in the chamber of material refining, while I took up my studies.

The director of our brigade was also an orphan in his childhood.  When he grew up, without finishing technical school, he took up the specialty of surveying and even became the head of the brigade.  Thus he cared like a father for my fate.  He helped me in just 3 winter months to learn the most critical skills.

In the spring I went out with the brigade to continued prospecting work for the branches of the canal in the role of a junior technical prospector.  It brought me great joy.  I did not have to go to Kzyl Orda to study for 4 years.  My salary was raised, and most importantly, I loved my job very much.  First of all, I was always outside far from the noise of the city, plus I gained full satisfaction from the work I produced.

The next season they sent me to the field work in “the Hungry Steppe.”  This was what they called a vast territory completely deprived of water and almost uninhabitable that boardered the sands of Kzyl-Kum.

Our brigade rented an apartment in the village of Kazkirisupr, which later was renamed “Jetysay.”  Our job was to survey the terrain of the Hungry Steppe which was projected before the war by the Germans.

The Hungry Steppe was spectacular.  The endless steppe, flat like a table, stretched out as far as the eye could see.  A rug of green grass and all kinds of ground flowers enraptured the eyes.  Triangles of geese and ducks preparing for migration flew in the sky.  Flocks of steppe partridges flew like clouds and spun around the places of drinking water.

Somewhere by the small, dry creeks dwelled Kazakhs in their huts and yurts.  This people was very hospitable.  They shepherded rams, cows, and camels.  They divided the land into small earthly plots and grew watermelons, muskmelons, sunflowers, and corn.

Yet we came to violate this tranquility established through many centuries by cutting up the entire steppe with lines of future irrigation canals.

One time the branch of a canal passed right through such a peaceful Kazakh aul.  Of course, the inhabitants of these auls were unhappy with us and brought us much harm.  After several years, the Hungry Steppe became a place of growing cotton, and the authorities disbanded all the auls in this area.  They took the water for the irrigation of cotton from the Syr-Darya River such that they fenced off many areas with dams.

After several decades, the whole earth of the Hungry Steppe became full of salt.  Then they were forced to dig deep waste disposal pipes through which the salty water exited toward the sands of the Kzyl Kum Desert.  The waste formed salty lakes.  Hundreds of steppe saigak antelopes died because they had nowhere to graze.  Man violated the natural balance created by God.  Catastrophe arrived as a consequence.

The gigantic Aral Sea nearly dried up.  People living around this sea and depending on it for food became impoverished.  The same problem also affected the Amu-Darya River.

But we prospectors did not seriously think about consequences at that time and worked with great excitement.  I managed to adapt the total array of tools for the purpose of building the future branch of the irrigation system.  As a result, I overfulfilled the plan by 250-300%.  Instead of 10 kilometers of marking off the canal, we managed to mark off 25-30 kilometers.   Because of this, we were rewarded with wage increases and a bonus.  Everything was good.

 

 

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Chapter Twenty Three: The Flood

Summer departed as quickly as it had come.  Yet again, it was time for me to continue my rather “productive” education at the boarding school in Dolinka.   Nothing noteworthy occurred during my time in school up to winter break.

In December I came down with parotitis.  They sent me home to an early vacation with my sister.

The dog which I raised at the kennel had grown.  It became an enormous, powerful dog.  Sometimes I took it to the Churbay-Nura River, where prisoners had assembled heaps of coltsfoot leaves.  I used to gather several bundles of coltsfoot  and pile them one on top of another.  Then I tied a rope to the lowest bundle and attached it to the dog.  I urged my dog forward and forced it to drag them home.  We used the plant to heat the oven.  The dog did not want to haul the bundles, but it did love playing with me.  So I took off my hat and waved it in front of the dog’s nose.  It ran after me in an effort to catch my hat.  Against its will, the dog dragged the coltsfoot to where I wanted.

Another time, I hooked up the sled for my nephews Yura and Shurik to the dog and made it run after me.  Then I cleverly changed direction, and the dog also ran after me.  My nephews rode the sled in the snow.  People scolded me for such endeavors, but I repeated them again and again because I enjoyed them.  My dog also enjoyed them obviously.

Often our dog ran into the zone, but the prisoners never touched it.  They knew it was my dog.  However, once I returned to the boarding school, the prisoners did eat my dog.

The anniversary of the end of the war approached.  As I had mentioned before, 25 kilometers away from Dolinka was the Jartassk Dam.  Between the hills they built a large dam.  The area beneath the dam was also named “Dam.”  There prisoners lived in barracks surrounded by barbed wire.

The spring was very rainy with frequent thunderstorms.  Then light, persistent rain continued for a whole week.

No one could figure out what had happened to the dam.  It was said that someone had deliberately detonated it.

But it was also possible that so much water had accumulated in the reservoir that the dam simply could no longer hold it.  So the wall of water moved downward and suddenly engulfed the prisoner camp located beneath the dam.  Very few people in the barracks escaped with their lives.  Even some soldiers died.  For a long time after the flood, bloated corpses of prisoners and livestock, including cows and sheep, were found in the bushes.

The news of the flood quickly permeated the entire village of Dolinka.  By evening, someone said the water was approaching the school.  We dashed out to peer at the water.  The water truly flowed like a cylinder with a height of 20 centimeters and a wide front.  It moved toward the school and the dormitories.  We ran in front of the watery wave.

Ivan Ivanovich gave the order to seal all the openings in the low brick foundation and the toilet drain.  The water surrounded the boarding school.  Everyone ran inside and sealed the entrance door as well.

It quickly became dark.  Water began to ascend higher and higher around the boarding school.

Suddenly a little fountain of stinking water burst from the toilet.  We quickly hammered the toilet cover shut with nails and sealed the cracks in the doors with cotton balls.  Our collective restlessness grew.

Then fountains of water started to burst from the cracks onto the floor.  Mice darted out of their underground shelters and drowned in the water.  Some tried to save themselves on the brooms or shoes floating in the water, but we drowned the mice.

Still ignoring our trouble, we tore up our books and notebooks in the excitement.  We made them into paper boats and floated them in the water.

But then as the water started to rise up to our mattresses, we cried out in panic.

Right at that moment, our director entered the room.  He waded through the water and calmed us down.  Then he opened up all our windows, and we prepared for evacuation.  Right through the water carts pulled by horses came to the dormitory and stopped opposite the windows.  It meant someone was thinking of us.

We took a wooden bed and put it across the window sill to the edge of the cart.  The bed served as a plank for us to go from one cart after another.  Our room filled up two carts.  The first evacuation consisted of the male dormitory as it was the strongest building.  Then they evacuated the female dormitory and the school.  Just as the last cart departed, one wall of our invincible dormitory collapsed, and the roof caved in.

Lights throughout the whole village went out.  The night was illuminated by the moon.  They drove us along the streets in Dolinka flooded with water.  All around people shouted.  Cows mooed, sheep bleated, chickens crowed, and dogs howled.  And bright evening stars high in the night sky shined over all this terrible noise.  The moon shined its light upon the unleashed sea out of which half-flooded homes protruded.

They separated us into three places.  Part of us wound up in a three floor administration building. Another group was in a club which stood on a high elevation untouched by the water.  But my group, essentially everyone in our room, ended up in the kindergarten building which also stood on a mound.

The water filled the whole village of Dolinka with an average of 1 meter in height.  But in some places the water barely touched homes, while in others such as the lowlands it nearly touched the roofs.

The flood caused a host of problems.  There were human casualties, especially among the prisoners.  But we were saved!  Praise God!  Someone cared about us and sent help just in time.  After several days, when the water began to decline and ground became visible in some places, I convinced my friends.  All five of us decided to wade our way through to the boarding school.

We moved along the path.  In some places, we walked on wet earth.  In other places, we were on our knees, our stomachs, and even to the point of swimming.  We successfully made it to our boarding school.  When we crossed the neighboring street, we saw this scene.

Our entire football field, two gates, the volleyball field, school, and two dormitories stood in the water, as if they were floating in a lake.  The school building suffered cracks within as if someone had broken it into two pieces.  The female dormitory was intact, but our dormitory was a ghastly sight.  Out of the water protruded a long triangle which was on the verge of shattering, since the building was old and made out of clay bricks.

We got inside the female dormitory through some open windows and started to examine the nightstands.  Then we threw two beds out the window.  We used them as a raft and broke apart some tree branches from some neighboring willow trees.  We managed to get to the raft by walking in water up to our ears.  Pushing off with the tree branches as oars, we began to float about the stadium and around the sunken dormitory.  Then we sailed around the school.

When we floated by the window of our director, she saw us.  We did not know that she was staying with Headmaster Buslay and refused to be evacuated.  Buslay immediately jumped outside, to be exact on the porch, where his big raft made out of beds was.  Having launched the raft with a large pole, he quickly overtook us.  He banged hard on the edge of our raft and ordered us to scram out of there.  We ended up in the water and abandoned our boat.  Then we bolted out of there.

We returned with wet, dirty, and virtually frozen ears.  Of course, our adventure was reported to the school director.  Once again, I was suspended from the school and the dormitory.  We were fortunate not to get sick.

That spring, we no longer studied.  The school and dormitory were in need of substantial repairs.  Our male dormitory disintegrated into dirt once the water receded and things dried out.  It was as if that house where we spent so many happy and terrible days had ceased to exist.  They gave us our school documents and sent us home.  They joyously gave me “the wolf’s ticket”, that is a report card with an annual grade for Behavior of “1” (the lowest grade).

I successfully made it back to my sister’s and showed them my documents.  Then our family council resolved to send me to Chimkent to 20 Karl Libknecht Street.  This was where my sister Pasha and her husband lived in an apartment belonging to a Christian family named Zudilin.  Dressed snugly and equipped with edible rations and a small sum of money, this time I also had the document about my rather “successful” completion of the sixth grade.  Without incident, I safely arrived in the city of Chimkent.

Chapter Twenty Two: Prisoners

I recall another incident from farm life.  Our farm had a milk engineer named Ishkov.  He was serving out the last year of his 10 year sentence of imprisonment.  Soon he was going to be set free.  The last 3 years he had been released from the prison gang and lived on the farm.

I often rode with him to the central division where we transported milk.  He always tied up to the cart a one-eyed tribal bull.  The bull was so old and almost twice the size of typical bulls.  So we often had to tie an additional gadget to its bridle.  Ishkov always sat in the front of the cart while I sat in back.  The whole way he told me all kinds of stories.  He reminisced about his home, his wife, and his children.

Once he told me, “Hey, Vityok!  Vityok, soon I am going home.  But I don’t know who will need me there.  Who will entrust me with a pair of horses or a bull like this one?”

His voice revealed such longing and despair that I was unsure how to answer him.  I perfectly understood how he had gotten so used to the conditions here after 10 years.  It was impossible for him to conceive being anywhere else.

Even I got used to this harsh existence, to life without the affection of a father or mother.  Even when I was near my mother, I could not bring myself to call her, “Mother.”  Now my relations toward her were so cold that I was resigned to it.

Once this incident took place.  As usual we were transporting milk.  It was a hot day.  Our bull barely made it along the dusty road.

Ishkov was telling me some story when the bull suddenly stopped.  The cart came right under a tall drain pipe.  The bull raised its head with its mouth opened wide and its huge teeth visible.  Sensing the situation, Ishkov turned to the bull and shouted, “Tsob, tsobe!”

Ishkov struck the bull with his rod.  Shocked, the bull groaned and sneezed loudly.  Ishkov was completely covered with wet manure that flew out from underneath the bull’s tail.  His whole face and torso were buried in that wet manure.  The bull surged forward with the cart as rapidly as it could run.  It ran off the road and toward the river.

It turned out that the bull’s trouble was caused by an attack of a “bzik”.  This is a type of fly that lands on an animal’s back, usually cows or bulls, rarely horses.  The important issue is that the fly lands on a spot safe from being swatted by the animal’s tail.  So the animal runs either into a thick of trees or toward water.

Our cart jumped on the bumps and flew right into the water.  The river was not very deep in that spot.  The riverbank had an incline that was one meter in height.  When we crossed that incline, the cart almost flipped over.  The bull and the cart stopped in the water which reached the bull’s stomach.  The bull stood in the water.  It dipped its tail into the water and swatted its back.  Its eyes were turned up, and the bull breathed laboriously.

I cracked up in laughter, but Ishkov showed impotent anger at the bull.  I helped Ishkov to wash up.  Then we washed out the flasks splashed by the manure.  During this time the bull calmed down.  Ishkov led it by the collar out of the riverbank.

We safely arrived at the division and distributed milk.  Then we went back to the farm without further incident.

The farm stable was in need of repair.  Pyotr Egorovich requisitioned a brigade of prisoners under the guard of one soldier to come to the farm.  The soldier sat on a rock near the wall of the stable.  He placed his rifle between his knees and observed the work of the prisoners.  The prisoners worked all day without lunch.

When the soldier wanted to smoke, he twisted a cigarette butt and ordered the prisoners to light a fire.  Obviously, he had no lighter.  Then a prisoner came half the distance between the soldier and the others, left a lit fuse on the ground, and walked away himself.  The soldier came up to the fuse, lit his cigarette, and left the place. The prisoner then took away the fuse.

This scene repeated itself several times a day.  This showed that the soldier did not trust the prisoners.  He never allowed them to come near him.

But there were other soldiers who trusted prisoners.  When such a soldier brought a prisoner brigade to work at the farm, he immediately set his rifle down in a corner.  Prisoners surrounded him and carried on conversations.  They talked happily, smoked, and lit their cigarettes from the same fuse.  Such soldiers never had prisoner escapes from their brigades.

They told me about one situation.  A trusting soldier put his rifle in a corner.  When the prisoners were talking with him, another prisoner suddenly stole the rifle and ran away.  Then the other prisoners themselves caught him and beat him up.

In general, prison escapes took place frequently.  But rarely did anyone manage to escape without leaving behind footprints.  Indeed, where could a prisoner hide in those endless steppes or between the hills where there were no free settlements, only prison zones?  The fugitive was caught usually after three or four days.

I witnessed firsthand  the results of a typical escape.  Two senior guards traveled on a cart while dragging a half-conscious runaway along the ground.  He no longer had the energy to walk, so they simply dragged him along like a log.

Prisoners had to wear soldiers’ uniforms consisting of coats and baggy pants that had been shot up and washed in blood.  They brought these clothes from the front except for the belts and stripes.

The prisoners were poorly fed.  Each prisoner wore on his belt a pot and spoon.  When they worked in the potato or carrot fields, the prisoners had permission once a day to start fires and cook whatever they could find.  Naturally, they got smart to bring something back to the barracks and share with those working in construction where there was nothing edible.  Winter was an especially difficult time of the year.

I witnessed this scene.  A column of prisoners worked at a river chopping down white willow trees, from which they made woven nets to catch the snow.  Famished and damp prisoners barely moved.

Suddenly a cart arrived.  Two soldiers hoisted up a frostbitten prisoner from the ground and threw him like garbage into the cart.  They took the prisoner back to the zone.  I did not invent any of this.

On several occasions, I wandered about the fields in search of something to eat.  Sometimes we got lucky.  Once during winter, we found in a bunch of old potato remains an entire bucket of potatoes.  Apparently, prisoners had hidden it in hope of retrieving it at an appropriate time.

But one time, also during winter, when we were skiing, we stopped at an apple orchard.  One of us crashed into a large pile of old branches.  A big apple got stuck onto one of the skis.  When we sorted through the pile of branches, we found there a bucket of half-frozen apples.  We dragged all of these to the boarding school and feasted for an entire week.

If a dog by chance happened to run into the zone, then the prisoners caught and devoured it.

Sometimes they took prisoners to the bathhouse.

I remember an incident that occurred during winter when I was at the boarding school.  They also took us to the common bath. We bathed together with prisoners.  They put our snow jackets and clothes in iron bins and heated them up to a high temperature in order to burn off lice.

One time I witnessed a living skeleton.  When we exited as a group from the bath to the changing room, a group of naked prisoners arrived.  It was a terrible sight.  Emaciated and weakened, they barely moved.  Many had tattoos.

A living skeleton walked right up to me.  A thin head, arms hanging like vines on a bar, a straight spine, and a pelvis with his leg bones protruding out.  How he still moved was simply a miracle.  Then etched on his chest in black highlighted letters were the words “Fighter for Freedom.”

In general, tattoos were a fad among prisoners.  No one knew where in the world they managed to find highlights and paint, except only those talented artisans and technicians among the prisoners.

I saw a lot of pretty drawings on naked prisoners.  Some of them wore tattoos on their arms, others on their fingers, stomachs, shoulders, chests, and legs.  One prisoner’s head was bald and had a drawing of an Uzbek skullcap on his bald spot.  One young man had the etching of two butterflies on his butt.

Another guy’s back was completely tattooed.  On his waist was an angry sea.  From the sea protruded the mast of a sinking ship.  On the perch of the mast sat a sailor holding in his outstretched hand a sailor’s cap.  The sailor was etched on one of the guy’s shoulder blades.  The hand with the sailor’s cap was on his other shoulder blade.  When he would wiggle his stomach and back, his shoulder blades would move.  It resulted in the waves moving, the person in the mast shaking, and the sailor waving his arm with the sailor’s cap, as if he were bidding farewell.

But one criminal woman had a vulgar inscription tattooed into her forehead.  With good reason sounds the proverb, “The wild man is used to tattoos, both in old and in new situations.”

And we children saw these tattoos in the baths and the zones.  We also were tempted and got the brilliant idea of getting tattoos.  On my left hand was a tattoo of a sea anchor.  I also got a tattoo of my first name on my fingers.  Once I had become a young man and started to pursue young ladies and attend church, I tried to burn the tattoos off with sulfur.  I managed to burn the tattoo off my fingers, but failed to erase the anchor.  Even now I still have it on my hand as a reminder of my childhood, my orphan years.

Do not have the misconception that all prisoners were wild men hooked on tattoos.  There were also normal people among the prisoners.  There were many Christians.  There were many military officers.

I remember one tall officer.  He carried his own uniform, naturally without stripes.  He always sat somewhere on the side and read a lot.  He probably used to have a prominent rank.  The story went that he was sentenced to the camp for a piece of paper, a propaganda leaflet with which the Germans frequently bombarded our front lines.  He picked up several pieces and used them as toilet paper.

Some tattlers  among the soldiers saw this and reported him to the headquarters.  The authorities searched him, found papers in his pocket, and sentenced him to 10 years in the camp as a traitor.

Soon we moved to the central division where Pyotr Egorovich was named as director of the milk factory, the place where Ishkov and I distributed milk.  They named another man as director of the farm.  The mother of Pyotr Egorovich returned to her home, and our mother lived with us.  That summer gave me greater opportunity to be right in the barracks where prisoners were living.

As I have already stated, I was the only child here.  I was accepted everywhere, including the milk factory, the dog kennel, the soldiers’ armory, and the barracks in the zone.  I was in demand everywhere.

The fact is that when Mother and I walked and traveled to Karaganda to sell sorrel, both soldiers and prisoners always gave me orders to bring them tobacco.  It even occurred that I had to bring them vodka in bottles of 250 grams they called flasks.

Mother also apparently had things to trade.  Besides sorrel, which we sold in bundles, we used the money we had earned to buy one or two loaves of bread.  Mother also bought a lot of tobacco and sold it here in the zone at a profit.  Sometimes she bought homemade candies.  In a word, Mother became a speculator, while I became a secret courier for the soldiers and prisoners.

Frequently I stayed the night in the barracks.  I slept with prisoners on the wooden bunks.  During the summer we slept without any bed sheets.  They slept in their clothes on the bare boards.  After taps, which was announced every evening by a bell, everyone was supposed to go to the barracks and sleep.  But they did not sleep for long.  They told all kinds of stories.  Some talked about the crimes for which someone was sentenced.  Others told all kinds of jokes.  Others reminisced aloud about their homes, families, and friends.  Still others counted the days remaining on their prison terms.  This happened every night.

Here in the zone, I experienced much good and bad.  Of course, I ran into more of the negative, from which I could not free myself for a long time, even when I became an adult.  I remember how one prisoner recounted how he “earned” his sentence of 10 years, as he phrased it.

“Our brother and I lived in the countryside in Russia.  Almost every night, a Black Crow came to our village and took away one or two ‘unfortunate’ men.  We sensed that soon they would come for us, since we lived ‘in luxury’ – we had a small mill and earned income from it.  So we decided that if we were to sit in prison, then let’s find some cause to do so.

“We sharpened our axes and waited for the right moment.  The Black Crow came at night.  The Chekists (NKVD secret police) knocked on our door.  We had locked the doors and did not open them.  Then the Chekists used their rifle butts to break down the door and burst into the house.  At first we managed to fight them off with our axes, but there were too many of them.  They soon overran us.  They gave us 10 years, but at least we know why we are in prison.”

And then I recounted how and why they arrested my mother, father, brother, and sister.

So summer passed.  The first postwar summer.  And although there was no longer any war, the consequences of war were still felt for a long time.  Bread at the bazaar cost 500-600 rubles for a loaf.  No one ever spoke of its quality.

I had one other occupation which I loved: fishing.  There was a lot of fish in the Churbay-Nura River.  No one caught them.  They prohibited the prisoners from catching fish.

Sometimes without permission I took a gun and loaded it with bullets.  One time, my mischief nearly ended up in tragedy for me.

I took a gun and went to the stream to shoot ducks.  But I saw no ducks anywhere.  I started to shoot at robins and centipedes.  One last bullet was left.  I loaded the gun and pressed the trigger.  Blank!  I took out the bullet, twisted it, and reloaded it.  Again I fired.  Blank!  Several times I repeated this procedure with the same result.

Nearby a herd of cows was grazing while a shepherd, also a prisoner, walked near them.  I knew who he was.  Once again I loaded the useless bullet, went up to the shepherd, and thought about scaring him.  I was so confident that the bullet was a dud.  The whole capsule was already crumpled.  I pointed the gun at the shepherd and shouted, “Hands up!”

The shepherd turned white and with a trembling voice said, “What are you doing?”

I pulled the trigger and… blank again!  I broke open the rifle with my knee, twisted the bullet, and put it back inside.

After putting the rifle down and not picking it up from the ground again, the trigger was pressed and… bang!  A shot thundered.

I groaned.  Everything within me shook.  What would have happened had I once again pointed the rifle at the man?  I took the rifle back to its place and never again pointed a weapon at people.

Life goes on.  Once again my mother and I were going to the bazaar to transport our goods.  We were going at night through the steppe toward the train station.

As usual, Mother walked quietly and thought her sullen thoughts.  How much sadness she was forced to bear all because of one fatal error!  Her heart became hardened.

I also went behind her in silence.  Only I stayed a bit further behind so I could smoke.  I always took a lighter with me being such a chain smoker.  She knew perfectly well that I smoked and never condemned me for it.  She never tried to talk me out of it.

She even began to use my “skills.”  I became her connoisseur.  She would summon me over to the tobacco vendors and ask me to choose the strongest tobacco.  I tested the tobacco by taking it, turning it into a cigarette, and taking a smoke.  Thus I could figure out the strength of the tobacco.  The stronger the tobacco, the easier we could sell it.

One time, Mother laid down on the bench her wares, including all kinds of buttons, scarves, sorrel, and candies.  She told me to watch over the goods, while she went to scour the bazaar.  Nearby stood identical venders with various goods.

I had already purchased the orders for the prisoners several flasks of vodka, which I held under my nose.  Out of boredom I smelled one flask, opened it with my teeth, and took a gulp out of sight of the neighboring vendors.  Everything inside me burned with a pleasant sensation.

After waiting a bit, I repeated this maneuver.  Then again and again.  Inside me it did not burn like before.  Everything around me seemed more cheerful and unusually without emotion.

Suddenly I felt the bench and the goods were falling on top of me.  I tried to hold up on my legs, but everything was spinning.  I fell into some hole.

Not knowing what was going on, the neighboring female vendors started to lift me up, expressing their shock.  Then my mother came. When she saw a nearly empty flask under the bench, then they understood everything.  They laid me under the bench, put some wet rags on my head, and I lied there for several hours.

When I returned to my senses, the bazaar was nearly empty.  Mother took me to the train station, and we went home.  From that time onward, I understood that it was dangerous to let out the “fiery jinn” from the bottle.

But as I grew up, regardless I repeated this practice.  Because of it, I myself suffered a lot and brought suffering to my family members.  All because sin entered into my inner world, into my life, and built a strong nest there.  More on that later.

Now I will continue with how I spent my time living in Karlag.

Chapter Twenty One: A New Regime

Soon they changed the regime of the boarding school.  The new headmaster was an elderly man named Ivan Ivanovich.  He moved into the headmaster’s room along with his wife Ekaterina Nikolayevna.  They had no children.  Ivan Ivanovich was very kind.  He loved us children and spent much time with us.  He gathered us in the hall, read us interesting books, and talked with us many hours.

I particularly remember one book called “Vanya Solntsev: Son of the Regiment”.  The book told about one boy who was without parents and was adopted by a regiment.  They sewed him a uniform, registered him as a private, and fed him rations with the rest of the regiment.

I recall that time when I roamed “the Wild” and traveled up and down the country.  I also nearly became a regiment’s son.  Somehow I crawled into a car full of young soldiers going to the front.  The soldiers received me into their family and fed me their rations.  I sang them songs and entertained them with tall tales.  I might have made it with them to the front, but unfortunately, another boy just like me, another living skeleton, also snuck into the car.  They also extended him hospitality.  But he turned out to be a stupid little thief.  He stole something from the soldiers.  Unable to figure out who was at fault, the soldiers expelled both of us from the train car.  Thus I did not make it to the front.

Ivan Ivanovich hung on the wall a large map and attached to it red and white flags to mark out the frontlines.  Every day this line was moving further to the west.  Ivan Ivanovich told us that the war would end soon.  That is exactly what happened.

They proclaimed May 5, 1945 as Victory Day over Nazi Germany.  It started with us in Dolinka with a people’s parade.  We guys walked up to the only large house with 3 floors in all of Dolinka, the administration building.  There gathered people for the parade.  Drunken soldiers looking for fat cigarette butts got into shoving matches with each other.  Joyous disabled soldiers fed us pirozhki and candies which they somehow gathered in pans.

On that very first Sunday they organized the people’s parade and a lottery at the town’s largest club.  They put on display lots of good new things, expensive souvenirs, various kinds of candy, and even bottles of vodka.  Lots of people wanted to win vodka.  One tall disabled veteran in particular sought to win vodka.  Several times he purchased lottery tickets.  Upon verifying his ticket, he managed to win many prizes, such as toys and candies, but he gave it all away to little guys who followed him like a shadow.  But yet again he bought some lottery tickets and finally achieved his desire.  One of the tickets earned him a prize of a bottle of vodka.

Our five friends also “joyously” observed Victory Day.  I forget where and how we obtained a bottle of alcohol.  After lunch, clutching at our bosoms an empty bowl, we left for the woods behind the school, chose a little field, and unsealed the bottle of alcohol.  We poured out its contents into the bowl and added a little water from the flowing stream into the alcohol.  Kneeling we took turns licking like dogs this stinky, bitter liquid from the bowl.  It looked like milk.  Consequently, we wished one another Happy Victory Day.

After I gulped several sips, immediately I felt that the earth beneath me was rising at first and then was falling.  The ground rose up to my face.  Then the earth broke before me, then again it rose as a wall against me and painfully struck me in the face.  I lost consciousness and fell on my back.  I don’t recall what happened next with me or my friends.  Only deep into the night I eyed the back wall of the school and realized that I was drunk and had lost consciousness for a long time.  I slowly crawled back to the boarding school, went to my bed, and fell asleep.

In the morning I saw my friends alive and well, but none of them remembered where and what they were doing, let alone how they wound up back at the boarding school.  That is how we spent Victory Day fortuitously without any casualties.

The next Sunday the parade continued.  Once again we snuck into the midst of people in the parade.

I remember one incident.  A healthy man, as we later found out, was the senior accountant of the administrative building and had run away from the front.  He was severely intoxicated and unable to think.  He stood in a provocative pose, rolled up his sleeves, and shouted, “Well, come here, any disabled man, and meet my fist!”

Of course, disabled people were unable to endure such an arrogant mocking.  Armed with their crutches, they attacked the mocker.  Had not more sober soldiers separated them, the disabled veterans would have killed that man.

That very evening, I decide to put on a farce for my friends.  I bet them that I could pass by the director of our school with a smoking cigar in my mouth.  I rolled a large butt and smoked it.  The smoke rose above my head and passed before the seated director resting in the wing of the school.  She saw me and beckoned me to come to her.  She asked, “What is going on?  How could you be such a brazen boy?”

With an independent and proud tone, I answered, “So what, is it forbidden?  It’s Victory Day!”

Of course, this deed did not go unpunished.  They suspended me from school and from the boarding school.  And I went to Anya at the farm.  Pyotr Egorovich had to travel to Dolinka.  After long negotiations, they accepted me back into the school and the boarding school.  Then classes finished at the end of May, and I went back to the farm for the whole summer.

This was my final summer that I spent in Karlag.  That summer I had a good vacation at my sister’s.  I often put the cows to pasture with Anton and also continued to hunt prairie dogs.  At that time my sister had two children: older son Yura and younger son Shurik.

The mother of Pyotr Egorovich came from somewhere in Chuvashia to live with them.  She was a tall, thin, elderly lady who was extremely nasty and temperamental.  She spoke quickly and incomprehensibly.  Shurik in his childlike way asked her, “Grandma, take me in your arms!”

But she answered, “Not Grandma, but Old Maid.”

Thinking that was her real name, Shurik once again asked her, “Old Maid, I want you to take me in your arms!”

“Now, you see!  Even my grandson calls me an old maid!” cried the old lady.  I did not like her and sought every opportunity to avoid her.

Often I spent time with the calves in their pen.  I crawled in between the fence posts that separated them from the cows.  I walked between the calves and patted them on the neck between their ears.  They trusted me by sticking out their necks and licking my hands and face.  They looked at me with their large childlike eyes as if they wanted to tell me something.  They surrounded me, and each calf desired attention.  All of a sudden, I waved my arms and with a loud yell fell to the ground.  The calves ran away in fear in different directions, running into each other and falling down themselves.  Later after standing on their feet, they looked at me in disbelief with downcast eyes as if they were saying, “How did we deserve such mean behavior?”

I laughed until I almost cried.  But having forgotten their fear, they once again dragged their mugs back to me.  Once again I petted them.  Then I crawled into a different pen and did the same thing with other calves.

Our mother also lived with us, but she spent most of her time in the bazaar in Karaganda.  She also spent the night there somewhere.  When she came to us in order to load up on goods to sell, we walked on the hills.  There in the villages between the hills we collected wild sorrel.  Sometimes our sister and I went while Mother stayed home.

One time Anya and I went to collect sorrel.  By accident I stared at the summit of a hill and froze with terror.  I saw a prisoner in a long torn robe on the hill.  I had already mentioned that there were fugitives in the zone.

I whispered to Anya, “Anya, look at the hill, there’s a runaway prisoner!”

She looked up and also was scared.  Flashing in her mind was the thought of a runaway prisoner!  An encounter with a prisoner in such a remote area far from the division was not safe.  He could molest us, steal our sorrel, or even rob us of our clothing.  Such incidents happened.

But suddenly I saw that a young eagle was sitting on the prisoner’s head.  The folds of his torn clothes did not move in spite of the blowing wind.  Regaining my courage, I approached him more closely.  Suddenly I figured out that this was only a figure of a person made by someone out of rocks sprinkled with glue.  I calmed my frightened sister and explained that this was not a real person.  Nonetheless, she only calmed down only when I stepped up to the figure and knocked it down.

At night, burdened with our sacks of sorrel, Mother and I set out for the train station Churbay-Nura to sit on the freight car and go to the bazaar in Karaganda.  I was the first to jump onto the platform and extended my hand to Mother.  With the other hand she pulled on the brake lever.  Suddenly, the entire car began to hiss.  Quickly we jumped onto the ground with our sacks and barely managed to run off into the darkness.  Railroad workers ran up to the car with lit flashlights.

Mother was afraid to climb onto the platform again.  Taking the sacks on our shoulders, we walked toward the junction.

The steppes teemed with clouds of mosquitoes during the summer.  I chased them away with the smoke of tobacco, and Mother was saved by endurance.  We walked through the steppe for a long time.  When we became tired, we decided to rest a little while.  Mother pulled out the bundle of sorrel from one sack, and I crawled into the sack and tried to fall asleep.  But the mosquitoes bit through the sack and found their victim with their long poisonous pricks.  They mercilessly bit me.  I crawled out of the sack and began to run around to protect myself from their bites.  The moon was out and made things visible from a distance.

Suddenly, we heard the noise of hooves and the squeaking of a cart.  Someone was traveling on the road.  When he saw us, the rider yelled at the horses, whipped them, and made a big circle through the steppe in order to avoid us.  The hope that someone would give us a ride was shattered.  We were forced to get on our feet, pick up our sacks on our shoulders, and walk.  People feared each other and avoided encounters with one another.

So we made it to the junction and lucked out.  We sat on the freight car and arrived in Karaganda in the morning.

My experience riding the freight cars came in handy many times while I lived with Anya.  I walked to the station Karabas, sat on the freight car that went near our farm 2 to 3 kilometers from the railroad.  I observed what the train cars contained.  I threw to the ground whatever was useful to me: boards, large pieces of coal, wire, and tin.  Then at the gate, when the train was ascending, I climbed to the lowest step.  Once the train slowed down, I jumped onto the ground in a somersault.  I learned to fall this way such that I never broke my arm or leg.  Then I gathered everything that I managed to throw off the train and brought it to the farm.

Once I got into a covered car and in the darkness I felt a pile of heavy bars.  I tried to lift one of them and barely managed.  Echoing in my head was the word “Gold!”  I dragged one bar to the edge of the door and shoved it out from behind.  When I jumped to the ground from the exit, I returned and near the rail line found the bar.  I barely dragged it to the farm and showed it to Pyotr Egorovich.

He carefully examined the bar and said it was not gold.  Still we carried it to the repair shop, where specialists explained it was some sort of brass – a variety of copper.  The bar had the stamp of the Balkhash copper refining factory.  In utter disappointment that the bar was not gold, we returned to the farm.  I suffered so much for nothing.  I read in books that people sometimes discovered gold bars and became wealthy.  But that only happened in books, but in real life I never found more than 10 rubles.

Another favorite occupation of mine was to break up nests, steal the chicks, and raise them.  This habit attracted me even in my first orphanage.  Once I was able to break up a nest of a steppe eagle, which built it on the highest summit of a steep hill.  I carried away four chicks home and made them a nest.  I began to take care of them.

Right away they refused to feed off bread and feed.  I needed to dig up worms for them.  Yet they also were not satisfied with worms.  All day they cried with their open mouths begging for something to eat and drink.

Then I took a long stick and went hunting for sparrows which congregated near the sheep pens.  I crawled along the stumps toward the sparrows sitting right on the very top of the cow stalls.  Using my stick, I knocked dozens of robins off the roof.  Then I brought them home and fed them to the eagles.  The young eagles eagerly devoured the prey by pouncing on them with their claws and pecking them with their beaks.  They tore the sparrows into pieces and swallowed their flesh along with their feathers.  The eagles feasted on sparrows.  The baby eagles quickly grew and demanded more meat.  I spent entire days hunting food for the eagles.

Later on I honed my ability to swipe young chicks from swifts.  Swift nests were located on steep riverbanks.  I learned to climb along the cliffs as well as any climber could.  I made steps in the walls of the cliffs and clung to them.  Next I stuck my hand into a deep hole and pulled birds out of there.  Right there I killed them and put them into my bag.  My eagles loved to eat this food.  They swallowed the swifts without even chewing on the meat.  Sometimes when I inserted my hand into the deep swift hole, I would abruptly draw my hand out.  I felt something cold and slippery.  These were predatory snakes that also fed on birds.  Then I would take my staff and stab it until the snake crawled out of the hole.

But the time arrived when my eagles started to fly.  I took them to the wild, chucked them upwards, and observed their flight.  But up to that time the eagles had gotten fat and lazy. They refused to fly away from me.  Instead, they landed on my head and shoulders.  The eagles opened their beaks and demanded food over and over.  It became unbearable.  How much meat did they really need?  I was sick and tired of climbing on ledges in search of food.  So I decided to release them into the wild.  Let them hunt their own food.

To my chagrin, I had not learned that true eagle parents gradually taught them how to hunt and flew together with their young.  Instead I had raised them up as welfare recipients, thus they had no desire to fly away from me.

I put them in a basket and carried them far away from the farm toward the tractor base.  There I threw them high into the sky while rapidly sprinting away from them.  Two times an eagle outpaced me and landed on my head.  Again, I threw it into the air and ran further.  Finally, it appeared I was saved from these foster children.  No longer did I have to go hunting.  The next day I set out for the tractor base to find out where my foster children had flown.

When I approached the base, I saw my eagle sitting on the edge of an oil barrel.  The eagle was covered in oil.  Its feathers were all stuck and logically could not fly.  People told me a frightening story.  When I ran away from the eagles, the birds who had gotten accustomed to people refused to fly.  One eagle sat right on top of a tractor worker’s head.  Not realizing that it was a domesticated eagle, he naturally got scared and shooed it off his head.  Then he took a wrench in his hand and killed it.  Another eagle stood on the head of another tractor worker, who seized it and threw it into the oil barrel.  Taking pity on it, the worker pulled the eagle out of the oil and set it on the edge of the barrel.  No one knew where the other 2 eagles flew.  Apparently they flew off into the wild as they understood that no one except for me would feed them.  Reluctantly I put the eagle covered in oil out of its misery.  It would never have survived.

After this incident, I realized the great error I had committed in breaking up the eagles’ nest.  If I had not done it, the eagles would have grown up and lived.  In place of that, I killed them along with so many little birds on their behalf.

There was a rumor once that a plague of locusts was moving straight toward the farm.  They raised an alarm throughout the whole farm.  People came out with shovels and rakes to bury and beat young locusts.  A wide front of gray grasshoppers like lava flowed toward the farm.  It was futile to resist them.  The living mass engulfed the whole farm.

Only God knew the origin of these locusts and for which particular sin He had sent them.  Later in life, when I started to read the Bible, I learned that Gog had sent locusts as one of the 10 plagues for Pharaoh’s disobedience during the captivity of the people of Israel.

Whoever has never seen a locust horde might find it hard to believe.  But it truly took place.  The locusts crawled into rooms, buried trees and grass, and left behind only isolated bare stumps.  Pyotr Egorovich grew tobacco near the farm.  Nothing was left.

The invasion lasted three days.  We had a 200 liter iron barrel which I filled to the top with locusts collected with a pail from the grass.  Then I covered the barrel with a cloth.  I did this to save food for the chickens.

On the fourth day, the sun heated up, and the clouds of locusts ascended into the air.  The sky turned gray.  I walked around with a rod and beat them.  By the evening, the locusts unexpectedly disappeared in the same manner that they had appeared.  No one had any idea to where they disappeared.

Chapter Twenty: Boarding School

I will describe our life at boarding school.  Here my activity was a lot wider than that on the farm.

The boarding school was comprised of three buildings.  Our male dormitory consisted of a long earthen building with a flat clay roof.  In the past in Kazakhstan all the roofs of houses were made of rock sealed above by a thick mass of clay.  They sprinkled salt into the clay so it would condense less.  Drywall had not been invented yet.  During the winter blizzards occurred frequently and brought a lot of snow.  The snow was so thick that we could climb up it to reach the roof.

To our detriment, we dressed down almost to being nude, and without appropriate clothing we ran and jumped off the roof onto the snow.  Whoever of the guys got the guts to perform the first jump when it was minus 40 degrees Celsius without any warm clothes on, that guy was considered the champion.  In general, the struggle to becoming champion in our children’s society in all areas of life consisted of:

  • Who was the first in winter to jump into the snow.
  • Who was the first in spring, when the ice in the river only started to melt, would swim in the icy water.
  • Who could jump the furthest in the game of “goat”. Who could smoke the most cigarette “butts of various kinds” of tobacco, and other things…

I lived in the room with the most people.  We had 25 beds.

The second building boarded only women.  Girls lived there.  Their building was new.  It was made of molten bricks and covered with an iron roof.

The third building was the school, a large state educational building with a high foundation of one meter, brick walls as well, and an iron roof.  In this building lived the director of our school, Zinaida Ivanovna.  She was a big, fat woman with a nearly bald head on which beneath her headscarf we often saw sucking leeches.  Indeed we gave her a nickname of “the Leech”.  Apparently, she was ill.  Along with her lived our deputy director, Buslay Ivanovich, a tall, lean man, very strict and demanding.

Our room was the noisiest.  We held pillow fights and also played games of retaliatory and typical “goat”.  We also played here the toughest game – cavalry battle.  We had a lot of room in the large room.  We played all of the winter games in our room.

The game of typical “goat” consisted of the following.  We divided into 2 groups of 10-15 people each.  Each boy of one group would hold onto another by the belt and place his head beneath his stomach.  This first group of boys formed a team that resembled a long, made-up animal.  Everyone in the second group had to run and jump upon the “goat” formed by the first group.  The first boy to attempt to jump was the one who was the lightest and most flexible, able to jump onto the head of the “goat”.   The entire second group attempted to sit on the boys of the first group (a total of 30 boys altogether).  If no one fell off or touched the floor with his legs, then the whole scene was repeated.  But not everyone could jump well and far, so it ended up that the boys at the end bunched up and naturally fell.  Then the second group would become the new “goat”, and the boys of the first group would jump on them.  But sometimes the members of the “goat” could not support the weight of the riders, and they would fall down.  Then the members of the “goat” started the game again forming the “goat”.  It was a very noisy game.

The game of “cavalry battle” consisted of this.  All those playing divided into equal groups of riders and horses.  Strong guys were chosen to be horses.  The lightest and most flexible guys were riders.  Of course I was always a rider.  When the riders sat on their horses, someone gave the command, and battle commenced.  The riders aimed at one another and attempted to shove their opponents off their horses.  The horses pushed their opponents to the side with all their strength.  Fans sat on the beds.  In the wide aisle between the rows of beds true struggle raged.  It was such a loud ruckus!  Some fans rooted for the riders, others for the horses.

Heated riders and sweaty horses shoved, fell, and hit one another.  Whoever fell departed from the game.  It kicked up dust up to the ceiling.  The victor was he who knocked to the floor the final rider.  Here I have to admit that despite the fact that I was very light and flexible, I did not always achieve victory.  Victory depended to a great extent upon the stamina of the horse.

The next game was “pillow fight”.  We also divided into two groups.  Each guy took a pillow, clutched it by the corner, and started to beat one another anywhere it fell.  In the heat of the fight we failed to notice that the pillows began to tear.  The air filled up with dust, flying feathers, noise, crying, yelling, in one word, true chaos.  This game typically ended up without a winner.

Everyone was overcome and sent away in disgrace when suddenly because of the noise appeared either the head teacher of the boarding school Idita Frantseva, or Bronya, our housekeeper responsible for the bed linens.  They mercilessly dismissed us with punches and twisted our ears. But all of this did not keep us down, and sometimes we repeated this game.

Society in the male boarding school split into two castes: a lower caste for boys 15 years and younger, and an upper caste for older guys.  Included in this upper caste were guys who had already served at the front and were registered in 9th or 10th grade because of injuries.  Each caste had its own boss-leader.  The leader of our younger caste was me, although I was not proud of this designation.

The boss of the upper caste was a tall, handsome guy named Pavel, who already had served at the front and had suffered wounds.  The boss of the lower caste obeyed the boss of the upper caste.  This produced strict internal discipline.

Struggle to become boss at times took place.  I remember one time when the entire boarding school froze awaiting the decision of who was to become the boss of the upper caste.  We found out that in Pavel’s room, a fight not for life but to the death was ensuing between Pavel and a challenger, who also had served at the front.  Fortunately, Pavel prevailed and remained the boss. Everyone of us respected him.

One time a situation transpired.  I had four close friends.  Our group of five was honest and just.  There were thieves among the guys in both castes at the boarding school.  They cleaned out the pockets of our coats.  When we went to the cafeteria, we removed and hung our coats up on the hangers.  Staying behind the rest, they checked out our pockets.

They stole parcels from those who received them from parents at home.  They also stole food and clothing.  They stole hats, shoes, and even books and notebooks.  It was difficult to catch such thieves, for they truly operated secretly on their own.  What also helped them was that no one ever suspected them.  Everyone suspected us five because we acted the most like hooligans.  We almost always kept an extra reserve of tobacco.  We always had something extra to eat because we had the highest productivity in the village, on the plantation, and in the gardens of the CID near us.  They even gave us money for it.

Once during supper, when everyone was in the cafeteria, 100 rubles sent to a boy in our room went missing.  His father was the director of some kind of division in the camp.  Immediately, Idita Frantseva summoned me to her office and said that we needed to return the money.  It meant that the suspicion was on us.  I told her that we did not steal the money.  I met Pavel in the hallway.  Apparently he also was summoned by the head teacher.  Soon they called me to Room 10 where Pavel lived.  Pavel asked me whether we stole the money.  I told him that we did not steal the money.

“Here is the deal, Drink Tea (my nickname in the boarding school), by 12 o’clock if this money is not on my desk, you only have yourself to blame.”

So I left.

It was already 11 in the evening.  The bell sounded through the boarding school for everyone to go to bed.  They turned off the light in all the rooms.  Our group of five met at my bed.  In quiet voices we discussed our situation.  If we did not find the money, one fate awaited us: vendetta.  We knew what it was.  They would beat us into unconsciousness.

So we decided to do a comprehensive search, starting in our room.  The money was just stolen tonight, and the thief could not have gone very far.  On the sixth bed from my bed which stood in the very corner was a shy boy named Maltsev.  His winter cap was on his stool.  When we felt it, we felt something in the front flap of his cap.  We ripped it open and found the 100 rubles.  The thief was discovered!  Hoorah!  We are saved!

Rejoicing and simultaneously being enraged, we turned over Maltsev in his bed, turned on the light, and commenced to carry out a vendetta with our own strength.  We beat him.  Then the whole room began to attack him.  Some threw books, others pillows, and still others mittens.

An entire hill formed on top of him, from which uttered a pitiful, begging voice:

“Drink Tea, forgive me that I stole the money.  I will return to you double!”

“But, thief, you ask me forgiveness?  In half an hour, had we not found the money, you would have beaten us up, especially me, and you would have helped them!”

“Beat him, guys, more, again he will learn his lesson not to frame someone else!”

Suddenly, the door opened and the light was turned on.  Standing at the doors we saw the head teacher and Pavel.  I quickly went up to him and showed him the hat where we found the money.  They saw what was taking place, accepted it as the way it had to be, and turned off the life.  They departed without saying a word to us.

After some time, the vendetta continued, but we felt pity for the thief.  We turned on the light, and cleaned up everything that people had thrown at him.  We fixed his bed, covered the beaten and crying boy with a blanket, and then turned off the light.  For a long time we were unable to fall asleep.

We sat on my bed and conversed quietly.  We discussed what happened and rejoiced with excitement that everything ended happily.  Yet what was eating at us was difficult to conceive. Violence was typically carried out by guys older than us who had already been at the front.

The next day at the general assembly of the boarding school, including the girls, they led out the thief and read out his punishment:

“Suspension from the boarding school for one month.”

Before us they publicly apologized for the unjustified accusation.  After this incident, our authority grew, and we promised one another that we would never steal in the boarding school, although before that time we had never stolen a thing from anyone.

The next episode with our five was a happier one.  We were already teens, or at least we considered ourselves as such.  In our contact with girls something akin to love appeared.  Many guys in our room were pen pals with the girls.  We wrote them love letters, received responses, and shared our impressions with one another.

 

I had the idea to make an album with our love letters.  We attached every note.  For example: letter – response.  The number of the letter.  Its contents, and later the answer in response to this note, from whom, and its contents.  Then the next note in the same manner.  It turned out to be a very interesting album of love letters.  Letter-response.  Letter-response.  When the album was already half-full, and we registered all those in our room who wanted to be included, we sat by my bed and read the letters aloud one page at a time.  Many laughed and even did so hysterically.

Once, as we were enjoying ourselves immensely, our head teacher Idita Frantseva suddenly and quickly appeared.  She suspected something was not right when she had glanced at us and heard loud laughter.  She quickly came up to us and demanded the album.  Of course I could not permit this and clutched the album to my stomach.

She swiped me along with the album and dragged me to the aisle.  She dragged me to the floor, punched me with her knee, and started to tear the album away from me.  I gave her fierce resistance.  She twisted my arm painfully.  Out of pain I cried out, tore off her arm, and unexpectedly tore her dress near her breasts.

The enormous soft breasts fell from her and touched my face.  They gave off a nasty odor of sweat.  The whole room observed this scene, and when the guys saw her breasts showing, they gave off a friendly laugh.  Idita Frantseva stood on her feet, put back into place her breasts, and cried through the open door for Bronya, our housekeeper.  She quickly ran to us.  The two of them together twisted my hands back and seized the album.  With triumphant joy and burning with anger and shame, they departed to go read our album.

We awaited harsh punishment, serious vendetta, but silence lingered in the whole boarding school, as if nothing had ever happened.

The next Sunday, after breakfast, they gathered all of us, boys and girls, in the hall.  The head teacher in a new dress publicly in front of everyone began to read our wonderful album.  After each note she read the response.  Then she summoned to the stage the owners of this correspondence and presented them to the whole group.  There was no end to the laughter and embarrassment.

But fortunately for us and to our surprise, neither we nor the wonderful female gender suffered any punishment.  They simply joked and made fun of us.  They advised us in matters of love to be more careful in the future.  They dispersed us all in peace.

Of course, they never returned me the album.  The girls were mad at us for a long time and wanted to have nothing to do with us.  But time heals all wounds, even those from love.  With time, once again we regained the respect of our ladies.  But naturally, our deeds were not limited merely to the boarding school.

We fooled around a lot during classes.  We had a natural science teacher.  He was a 40 year old man with huge, thick, and dark eyebrows raised above his eyes. He had suffered a concussion at the front and was a very strict teacher.  During lessons he told us all kinds of humorous stories.  We nearly collapsed laughing, but suddenly he would radically change his facial expression from laughing to sober.  He would beat his fist on the desk and demand silence.  Naturally, we could not stop laughing right away nor change our facial expression.  Then he would come over to the guilty, seize him by his neck with his strong arm, and kicked the guilty in the behind and expelled him into the hall.   Only then did we stop laughing.

We made fun of him and gave him the nickname “Babysitter”.  One time, Babysitter summoned me to the chalkboard and ordered me to erase the words written on it with a rag.  I took the rag and wiped the board.  Meanwhile, Babysitter got distracted in reading a magazine and forgot about me.  I made a big hole in the rag and snuck up from behind to the back of the sitting teacher.  I stretched out the rag above his head and waited.  Deathly silence dominated the classroom in expectation of something terrible.  Having noticed the unusual rag, he suddenly got up without turning around and wore the rag around his neck like a turkey.  Babysitter’s face turned red.  He seized me by the neck and started to hit me wherever his fist landed.  I barely got away from him and escaped to the hallway.  He did not chase me.

Fortunately, he often forgot insults and never complained to the management.  He simply recorded in his grading journal “Behavior – 1”, which meant “F”.  “The highest possible grade.”  The places where he hit me hurt for a long time.

Somehow before his class during the break, some assistant teachers hauled in an actual human skeleton to be put on special display.  When I saw it, I ordered my friends to serve as lookout, while I quickly took off the hangers the suit jacket and hat of Babysitter.  I put them on the skeleton.  I put an empty cigarette in the skeleton’s teeth.  I also placed the cane that Babysitter used to walk in the hand bones of the skeleton.  The skeleton turned out to be an attractive skeleton, of course without pants.  The bell rang to announce the end of the break, and everyone sat in his spot.  Afterwards, Babysitter came.  Without saying a word nor looking at us or the skeleton standing by the blackboard, he sat down at the table and started to read.  Everyone was waiting with nervousness what would occur next.

Someone could no longer restrain themselves and burst out laughing.  Babysitter saw this, quietly scanned the entire classroom, and then looked in the direction of the skeleton.  The look on his eyes turned crimson.  Suddenly, which we did not expect, he abruptly and loudly started to laugh.  The whole class also laughed.  Then also unexpectedly, he changed his facial expression from happy to dour.  This time, he did not ask who perpetrated this prank.  He approached me, dragged me away from the desk, and threw me like some puppy toward the door.  Not awaiting additional kicks, I suddenly jumped up on my feet and ran into the hallway.

He opened the door.  Already with a friendlier disposition, he ordered me to run 25 laps around the school at a galloping pace.  I ran the first 5 laps honestly, but then I got smart.  I ran standing at my full height by the window.  Then I jumped down and crawled back underneath the window.  Then I ran by the window again standing upright.  Repeating this 20 times, I “ran” my punishment laps and returned to class.  With a laugh Babysitter looked at me and kindly allowed me to sit in my place.  Apparently he forgave me in this mischievous act.  That is how my education was conducted.

We also loved to put trash at the door of the classroom. When the bell sounded to indicate the end of break, several of us boys created a traffic jam at the door.  The whole class sought to go the opposite way through the door, but they had no way to open it.  They pushed on the door.  But suddenly, we abruptly opened the door, and the crowd of students were surprised and barged into the classroom.  Many of them fell on the floor.

Once during such a procedure, my hand got caught between a box and the door.   Out of the blue the other students knocked in the door such that I had not time to get my hand out.  They pinched it painfully.  I yelled, and they let the door go.  Something cracked in the bones of my hand.  I moaned as my hand sagged.  They checked me out and sent me to the hospital.  The doctor on duty looked, felt my hand, and said that I had suffered a bone fracture in my left hand.  They tied my hand in a cast and sent me back to the boarding school.  I did not go to school for several days and spent all my time in bed.

One time after dinner, I was lying on my back in bed and held my bandaged hand on my stomach.  I was snoring a little.

As I stated earlier, in our free time we often walked about town about the gardens and fields of the CID.  We found gleanings from the harvest and cooked them in a pot for supplemental nutrition.  This time somewhere, I forget where, found corn.  One of us took the pot, went to the kitchen of the boarding school, and boiled some corn porridge on the stove.  The cook allowed us to do this.  The porridge turned out very thick.  Walking in the hallway, he turned the pot upside down and smelled the sweet aroma of the porridge.  And the porridge did not pour out.

I was lying on my back with my eyes closed.  Coming up to me, he turned the pot upside down above my head and joyfully proclaimed, “Drink Tea, smell what tasty porridge I cooked!”

Just as I opened my eyes to look, the contents of the pot spilled right onto my face.  I suddenly jumped out of bed and used my healthy hand to wipe the hot porridge off onto the floor.  Fortunately, the thickness that formed on top of the porridge in the pot protected me from a severe burn.  Otherwise, I could have lost my eyes, but instead I just suffered a few minor burns which healed after a few weeks.  Without hesitation we mopped up the porridge as best we could and ate it with pleasure.  We refused to let this good deed go to waste!

Chapter Nineteen: Winter Vacation

The time spent at boarding school left a lasting impression on me for my whole life.  It was there that the formation of my character vividly unfolded.

I fell into the company of homeless children.  Although I had already tasted the “sweets of the Wild”, to a greater extent here I feasted upon all those customs and laws that govern such society.  My vocabulary consisted purely of cuss words with a small addition of human words.

I already was smoking for real.  My fingers were yellow from nicotine because I always had to keep using the same cigarette to smoke, as there was a shortage of tobacco.  We had one type of tobacco.  We called it “Butts of Various Kinds”.  To find such tobacco, we had to travel kilometers, scouring places where people gathered such as clubs, stores, and streets.  We had a master of finding such tobacco named Ermilov.  After he had passed through such an area, it became hopeless to find anything more, not one butt. In the summer, we added to this half-consumed tobacco various grasses, including sometimes cannabis leaves.  Mother, sister, and brother-in-law knew that I smoked but did nothing to wean me off it.

Winter vacation arrived.  They let me go home, and I chose to walk to my sister’s.  Powerful blizzards often blew in the region of Karaganda.  Thus they put signs made of sticks topped by a pile of hay every 20-30 kilometers on the roads.  If a snowstorm pursued a traveler, he could still go on by making out the signs.  The snowstorm covered up his footprints, and the traveler could get lost.

Fortunately, the day was sunny, and I quickly advanced.  Suddenly ahead of me on the road I saw a sitting wolf.  I quickly took out of my pocket a butt and a fuse that I always carried with me.  With a lighter from a special pouch, I lit the filter, the cotton burned with smoke, and I held out the burning butt with my hand.  I approached the wolf.  Probably the burning smoke reached the wolf.  The wolf reluctantly got up and ran 20 meters away, sat in the snow, and started to watch me carefully.  I went ahead without looking it in the eye.  Either the wolf was not hungry or else it truly did not like the smell of the smoke.  It remained in its place, and I went and frequently looked behind.  I never saw any more wolves up to the farm itself.  In general, there were many wolves in our area.

During the 10 days of winter break, two memorable events occurred.  Winter and summer they milked the cows.  Every day, they hauled out the milk in flasks on carts or sleds to the central zone and gave them to the milk factory.  The factory produced butter and cheeses and sent them somewhere, perhaps to the front.  There was an engineer-prisoner who ran everything.  I often traveled with him to distribute milk.  But that day, the engineer got sick, and Pyotr Egorovich took it upon himself to pass out the milk.  Somewhere around 2 in the afternoon, we loaded the milk flasks onto the sled.  We put on warm clothing and armed ourselves with guns with 16 caliber bullets.  We set off for the zone.  The weather was sunny without any special problems.  Our farm had a small dog, a mongrel, and we took it with us.  We tied a pair of bulls to the cart.  We arrived at the zone without any special events.

While Pyotr Egorovich was passing out the milk, I went to the kennel where they raised guard dogs.  There I requested a puppy.  They did not give me a German shepherd, but rather a puppy of a special breed.  It had a large head and thick paws.  I stowed it under the floor of the heater and arrived on time.

My brother-in-law was waiting for me.  We sat and set off for home.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, a strong wind blew, and dark clouds in the sky enveloped us after a few minutes.  We had barely traversed a kilometer when a blizzard broke out.  It blanketed the road.  It became completely dark.  The bulls refused to go any further.  Pyotr Egorovich got out of the sled and took the leather belt that held the bulls together.  He dragged them from sign to sign while we could see them.  Suddenly in the midst of the howling wind, we heard the voice of solves which howled in unison with the storm.  My hair stood up on end.

Our mongrel was aroused and bravely charged into the blizzard toward the howl of the wolves.  After several minutes we heard a pitiful wail.  All became quiet.  Our mongrel did not return.  My puppy hid amongst the flasks and quietly cowered.  The howl of the wolves increased with greater force and came closer to us.  Now it became audible around us.  Pyotr Egorovich took out his gun and fired it twice into the blizzard.  The howl of the wolves immediately became quiet.  Then he gave me the whip and told me to beat on the empty flasks.  He set off into the darkness with the gun in his hands and sought out the sign.  Once he found it, he returned, dragged the bulls to it, and set out once again to find the next sign.  So little by little we found the farm.  The howl of the wolves did not return.  Apparently they were scared of the gunshots and did not risk attacking us.  Suddenly, we heard a noise up ahead.  Someone was beating a stick against an empty bucket.  It was sister.  She had left her stable room and knocked on the bucket when she realized we had fallen into the snowstorm.  Pyotr Egorovich led the bulls toward the sound and soon we saw the haystacks and arrived home.

The second event occurred in broad daylight.  One woman, a farmhand, was cleaning in the cow stalls.  With her pitchfork she was shoveling out manure into the open window.  Suddenly, a huge wolf jumped through the window into the stable.  The farmhand saw it and screamed.  The wolf attacked her and bit her on the legs and arms.  She did not panic but was able to hit it with the pillars that held up the roof.  The farmhand turned the wolf off her and killed it by striking it several times on the head with the pillar.  If she had panicked, the wolf would have devoured her.

Another situation took place on a farm in a different division.  A farmhand was walking with a milkmaid at night behind the stable.  Wolves attacked them.  The farmhand ran way out of fright and left behind his beloved milkmaid.  When he ran into the stable room and told what had happened, others ran out to search for the milkmaid.  Only when the sun rose did they find her beneath a pile of dug up snow.  Under the snowbank protruded the bones of the legs that had been chewed up.  These were the only remains of the woman.  The wolves had emboldened themselves to dare to come so close to the farm.

Somehow during the day I saw a wolf which sat on a pile of manure 100 meters from the farm.  My brother-in-law was not home.  I went into the stable room, took the gun hanging on the wall, loaded it, and went outside.  I aimed at the wolf and fired.  The wolf jumped off its place and then slowly ran away and gave a displeased look toward me.  During the day one could see the footprints left by wolves that came to the farm in a procession.  They were attracted by the smell of meat.

Pyotr Egorovich told about a time when he led a winter expedition that herded several hundred sheep from Karaganda to the meat factory at Petropavlovsk.  An entire wagon train, carts with hay, kitchens, a brigade of infantry soldiers, shepherds, cooks, and doctors conducted the expedition.  They were on the road an entire month.  Following them during the whole trip were packs of wolves that occasionally attacked at night during blizzards.  They were aggressive in bad weather and plundered several dozen sheep.  They chewed them and ate them on the way.  After they filled themselves, the wolves burrowed into the snow and slept.  When the storm calmed, the soldiers rode on horses and searched for them.  By the remains of the wolves’ plunder – chewed up bones and pieces of fur – they located and shot the wolves.  The torn up sheep were recorded, and the expedition continued.

Then winter vacation was over.  Pyotr Egorovich took me back to the boarding school.

Chapter Eighteen: Anya

We went by beautiful mountains on which grew small dewberry bushes.  In the valleys between the mountains grew steppe prairie grass.  Often on the sides we saw yellow prairie dogs standing on their hind legs like pillars.  Sailing on their wide wings in the sky were eagles seeking out prey.  Flying more highly even than the eagles, larks flapped their wings frequently as if they were standing in one place.

Silence surrounded us as if no horrible war ever existed anywhere in the world, as if no one were dying by bullets or bomb explosions.  But somewhere far away, war was going on.  Heartless, senseless war.  Because of the ambitions of a few men on a wild goose chase who desired to rule the whole world, millions of innocent people perished, and orphaned children wandered the earth.  At that time, I did not yet consider all that.

So we arrived at the Jartassk dam, behind which the mountains encircled a large reservoir.  Beneath the dam stood barracks surrounded by barbed wire where prisoners lived.  They did not know that in a short while many of them would die in the flood caused by the rupture in the dam holding up the large reservoir.

More about that later.  Now we approached the Churbay-Nura division, 3 kilometers from which was located the milk farm of Pyotr Egorovich in the mountains.

Finally, the farm appeared.  Our horse neighed in joy as it sensed its home.  From there we heard the response of its filly.  The farm consisted of four long stables where the cows slept.  A canopy was built by each stable which attached the large yard to a fence made out of willow trees.  Young calves grazed in the yard.  Behind the stables on the side stood several haystacks prepared for the winter.  To the side of the stables was a small house in which lived the workers of the farm: milkmaids, shepherds, watchmen, smiths, and managers.

They were all freed from the prison gangs.  The supervisor of the farm Pyotr Egorovich lived in the carriage, a little 3 by 3 meter room with a little window.  The carriage was located at the beginning of the stable.

When we came up to the farm, my sister ran to meet us.  Even my boyish feeling told me that she was my sister.  She embraced me and took me to the carriage.  The meeting was touching.  Anya cried.  But I did not cry, but simply smiled happily.  Somehow I felt freer around my sister.  That is what I felt in the new place where I had to live up to 1947.

Prisoners on this farm ate well by wartime standards.  They brought corn for the cows and people ate along with them.  They brought some oats for the horses.  Pyotr Egorovich built a little mill, and I grinded meal out of it. Anya cooked from it oatmeal with milk.  They got sweet syrup from somewhere, and everyone ate it.

Milk was abundant.  I often went to my sister when she sat on the bench and milked cows.  I observed how she sensitively squeezed the soft teats of the cows breasts and streams of warm milk flowed into the bucket.  Then the milkmaids poured the milk into bottles and placed them by the door.  Anya fed me warm, fresh milk, and I started to gain weight.

I was the only child on the whole farm and in all of Churbay-Nura.  There was one other boy in Churbay-Nura whose father was the head of security.  Sometimes we saw each other and played together.  I remember once when he called me to his place when no one else was home.  He fed me.  He poured into a large, clean, white bowl some chicken soup and then some sweet tea into a glass cup.  He also served some cut Napoleon cake on the table.  I ate with such appetite!

I felt as if I had ended up in some czar’s palace.  All over the walls hung rugs and stood beautiful furniture.  Everything was as if it were in a dream.  I did not suspect that people could live so well and nicely live and eat.  At the farm, I had never seen anyone eat such soup, let alone Napoleon cake.  That is its name!

Still I was satisfied with life on the farm.  Most importantly, I was full.  I did not have to get food using various methods.  I did not have to “frisk” and hide from the police.  I was a sick bird and did whatever I wanted.  I associated with everyone, and everyone loved me as if I were their own son.  I got on especially well with a shepherd named Anton.  He had already served 5 years in the zone and ended up on the farm through a fortunate circumstance.

There was a cobbler on the farm.  He fell ill and was sent to the hospital.  They needed a new cobbler.  Pyotr Egorovich went to Churbay-Nura to find a new one.  I went with him.  They admitted us into the zone, and we entered the barracks.  It was early in the morning, and the prisoners were still in their beds.  Many volunteers desiring to leave the zone raised their hands.  Pyotr Egorovich chose one of them and took him to the exit.  Clearly all arrangements were already made, and he took him to the farm.  They situated him in the cobbler’s room, showed him all the components of the cobbler’s tools and a bunch of old shoes needing repair.  He went to work.

Two days later, Pyotr Egorovich took a look in the cobbler’s room to check how things were going.  A torn shoe stood in place without having been touched.  Anton peacefully lied on his bunk and sucked on cow feed.  It turns out that Anton had never been a cobbler and did not even know how to hold a needle and thread.  He asked Pyotr Egorovich to give him any work but not to send him back to the zone.  Pyotr Egorovich had pity on him because he had just recently left the zone.  He sent Anton to tend to the cows and brought another real cobbler from the zone.

Once I went to the field where Anton was tending the cows and saw the following scene.  Anton sat at the fire and was cooking something.  I sat next to him and smelled the pleasant aroma of cooked meat.  When the meat cooked, Anton and I ate it.  I asked him where he got the meat.  He uncovered some branches and showed me a hole where he stored prairie dog hides.  I understood completely.  While the cows peacefully grazed, Anton hunted prairie dogs.  Nearby was a colony.  Anton took a pail of water, poured it on the hole, and out of it flowed out the prairie dogs.  Consuming a diet of prairie dogs and covering them with milk, Anton rapidly gained weight. He grew a thick red beard.  He no longer resembled that emaciated prisoner that first arrived at the farm.

One time the desire in me to steal something was aroused.  I knew that my sister hid under the mattress money wrapped in a rag.  In the morning when Anya went to milk the cows and Pyotr Egorovich went to the zone on business, I took the money, stuck it up my nose, and left the farm in the direction of the train station Karabas, 3 kilometers away.  I sat on the first freight car I saw and went to Karaganda.  There at the bazaar in the train station I bought a pair of corn cobs, but I did not eat them.

My conscience tortured me.  I was ashamed that in spite of living at my sister’s and having all necessities, I still felt compelled to run away and come once again to “the Wild”.  Where could I go further? Once the money would run out, I would have to return to “the swipe”.  Yet again awaited me the storage rooms of living baggage.

No!  Go back now!  I will ask forgiveness of my sister and brother-in-law.  Never again will I run away anywhere.  Once again, I sat on the freight car and safely returned to the train station Karabas.

I made it to the farm on foot, but I was ashamed to set foot there.  Two days passed, and during that time naturally they had figured out that the money had disappeared.  They were searching for me in the mountains and looked out beyond the farm.  Anya saw me, came to me, and started to affectionately call me home.  Of course, I hesitated a little, but with joy I went to her.  You have to give credit to my sister and brother-in-law.  They did not mention a word to me about taking the money or running away as if it had never happened.  I quietly put the money back.  From that time onward, I never stole anything from my own home.  I never had the desire to run away from home again.

So summer ended, and my brother-in-law enrolled me in the boarding school in the village Dolinka, next to the CID Zone.  Soon Anya gave birth to a son named Yura.  Mother was permitted to move to her daughter on the farm and begin to live with them.