Today's Reading

The sergeant pokes among the drawings, using the barrel of his pistol to swivel the pages toward him. Pasha sees the look that comes over the man's face, the same look he sees in the face of everyone who beholds his artistic ability. It is the look that is in old man Griboyev's glittering eyes when he sidles over from next door to watch Pasha at work.

The sergeant raises his gaze from the scattered pages and looks directly at Pasha. Torchlight reflects from the sea of paper. Pasha would like to capture that play of light on the man's face. He will try from memory, he will go within himself and find it once this present confusion is over and the militiamen have gone. For confusion it surely is; and they will go away when they know that.


But the sergeant puts an end to any such hope. He slaps the warrant down on the arm of the sofa.

"Sign this."

"What is it?"

"Acknowledgement of the legal and proper means of your arrest. Says we've done it by the book. Says we didn't intimidate you or beat you, you're coming with us willingly. Says you loved the whole experience."

"Arrest?" cries Mama. "Not my Pashenka! We're honest citizens here. His father gave his life, he was a hero and a martyr in the Great Patriotic War. This is a terrible mistake!"


She tries to rush forward, arms outstretched to embrace Pasha, as if she can wrench him from the jaws of this decision that neither of them understands and that has been made in some unknown place by someone that neither of them even knew existed.
Her path is blocked. A militiaman holds her back.

"Come with you where?" says Pasha.

"Militia station."

"Why? What law have I broken? I have a right to know."

"So now you're a lawyer? Sign the damned thing."

Someone pushes a fountain pen into Pasha's right hand. It is a cheap Soyuz, a type he would never trust. Ink splutters over the warrant.

"Clumsy bastard," says the militiaman who provided the pen. He seizes Pasha's hand and twists it back, clear of the warrant. The sergeant's pistol chops down hard on the man's arm. The militiaman wails and drops Pasha's hand. More ink splatters from the pen.

The sergeant bends down to Pasha.

"Nobody harmed you. He didn't hurt you. Agreed?"

Pasha stares at him, baffled. What kind of arrest is this, in which the prisoner is first mocked and manhandled but is then protected? As if the insults and bullying come naturally, instinctively, but the protection is by order of a higher authority and has to be considered consciously and remembered just in time. As if there will be trouble otherwise.

"No one harmed me. I loved the whole experience."

"Very good, Kalmenov. You're learning. All you have to do is cooperate."

"All you have to do is go to hell."

The sergeant chuckles. He takes a corner of blanket and dabs the blobs of ink dry. Pasha transfers the pen to his left hand and signs the warrant. Mama whimpers again.

They allow him a visit to the communal toilet in the courtyard before they set off. Two of the militiamen stand guard outside. They make him keep the door open.

In the truck the sergeant rides in the cab beside the driver. Pasha sits in the back surrounded by the other militiamen, including the one with the injured arm. All of them cling to the leather straps hanging from the metal roof. Even so, with every heave of the vehicle as it bounces into potholes camouflaged by snow, they are tossed up and down and from side to side so that they can never be still for more than a few seconds at a time.

The truck has no heating system. One tiny bulb mounted on the bulkhead is the only source of illumination; it changes the flushed faces of the militiamen to a sickly green, making them pale versions of the truck's paintwork.

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