From Book 3. ANOTHER PILGRIM
Here it is! The Ob, the great Siberian river, is before me once again. I have made my way to this northern village, where regular transportation ends, and now stand on the banks of the Ob. To get to where I can proceed on foot across the taiga to Anastasia’s glade, I have to hire a boat or launch. Near one of the many boats hauled onto the shore, three men were disassembling their fishing tackle. I greeted them and said I was prepared to pay well for someone to take me to a certain place.
«It’s Egorich who does that here. Takes half a million for the trip," one of the muzhiks replied.
I was immediately put on my guard by the information that someone here specifically transported people to a small Siberian village forgotten in the middle of the taiga. It was just
So I asked, «How can I find this Egorich?»
«Somewhere in the village. Probably by the store. Over there, those kids horsing around by his launch, Egorich’s grandson Vasyatka is with them. He’ll check. Go ask him.»
I’d barely said hello when Vasyatka, a sharp kid of about twelve, suddenly fired off this patter:
«You need to go? To see Anastasia? I’m on it! Just a sec and I’ll get my granddad!»
Without waiting for an answer, Vasyatka skipped off to the settlement. It was obvious to me that he didn’t need an answer. Evidently all the strangers in these parts had the same goal, in Vasyatka’s opinion.
I made myself comfortable on the riverbank and began to wait. Having nothing to do, I looked at the water and thought.
From bank to bank here, it was probably a kilometer wide. In the middle of the taiga, a land unseen even from an airplane, water has been flowing gradually through the ages. What has it taken from the past without leaving a trace? What does the Ob water still remember? Maybe it remembers how Ermak, the conqueror of Siberia, pinned to the banks of the Ob by his foes, deflected their attack alone, sword in hand, but his blood seeped into the water from his mortal wound, and then the water carried his weakened body off somewhere. What had Ermak conquered? Might his actions have been something like
Might the forays by Chingiz Khan’s host have been more significant for the river? In antiquity, his horde was considered great. In Novosibirsk Province there is a district center called
The current bore the boat away. The vizier, shot through by the arrow, lay on the stern and did not even watch the three boats of rowers drawing closer and closer with the soldiers. He looked tenderly at the maiden, who sat there calmly, silently, and was himself silent. He didn’t have the strength to say anything. The Siberian girl looked at him, too, then glanced at his pursuers and barely smiled, either at them or something else, tore the ropes from her arms and threw them into the water. The young Siberian girl took up the oars. And the pursuit’s dugouts could not catch up with her boat, where the wounded vizier lay.
Where, into what times, did the water’s current carry them, and what now, in this instant, was the cloudy river water carrying away in its memory about us?
Would the river think the big cities most important? Today, Novosibirsk, a huge city, stands on the Ob’s banks, closer to its sources. Can you feel its size and grandeur, River? Of course, it is clear to me that you might say the river water, once
I wonder whether the river remembers me. Me on the ship, the largest passenger ship we had. The ship wasn’t new, of course, and at full steam all its diesel engines and propeller made such a racket, we could barely listen to music in the bar.
What does the river consider most important and retain in its memory? Before, I would look at its banks from the high deck of my ship, from the windows of the aft bar, to the sounds of Malinin’s songs and ballads:
On a fine white horse, I’d ride to town,
For the tavern mistress’s smile fair,
On the bridge, I caught the miller’s scowl,
And with the tavern’s mistress spent the night.
At the time, the people going about their business on the banks had seemed trifling and insignificant. Now I was one of them.
I also thought about how I was going to convince Anastasia not to prevent me from having contact with my son. Such a strange situation had come about. All my life I’d dreamed of a son. I’d imagined playing with him when he was little. Then raise him. When my son grew up he would be a good helper to me. We would be in business together. I have a son now, and though he’s not near me, it’s still nice to know that a being so close to me and so desired exists on this earth. Before my departure, I’d taken tremendous satisfaction in buying all kinds of unnecessary children’s things for my baby. Buying is one thing. Whether I would be able to give them was still a question. If I’d had my son by an ordinary woman, whether from the country or the
My goodness. «He has no need of any material goods." But what can a parent give his newborn then, especially his father? It’s still too soon to give the nursing infant a fatherly upbringing. How can I express my love toward him then? How can I express my concern? The mother nurses him, so it’s easier for her. She’s already involved, but what is the father supposed to do? In civilized conditions, he can help around the house and worry about the family’s material
I think her statements are either utter superstition or at least have a definite kink. Did humanity really invent so many different toys for children for nothing? But so as not to argue with Anastasia, I didn’t buy any rattles but I did buy an erector set that had this written on the box: «Play for the development of children’s intellect." And I bought the disposable diapers the whole world uses. And baby food, too. Which simply delighted me with its convenience of preparation. You open the box, and inside is a hermetically sealed, waterproof foil package. You cut open the packet with scissors, sprinkle the powder into warm water, stir, and it’s all ready. There are different kinds of powder: buckwheat, rice, and other cereals.
It also says on the box that it contains various vitamin supplements. I remember before, when my daughter Polina was still very little, I had to go to the community kitchen every day for her food, while here I’d bought a box and you could feed my child without any problem. You didn’t even have to cook it. Mix it in water and that’s it. I knew Anastasia did not boil water and therefore before buying a lot I bought one box. I tried mixing the powder in the box with room temperature water, and it dissolved. I tasted it and it tasted fine, only bland because there was no salt, though for children it probably shouldn’t have salt. I decided Anastasia wouldn’t be able to find any arguments against this powder. It’s absurd to refuse this kind of convenience. And she would have to have some respect for our technocratic world. It not only produces weapons but thinks about children, too. However, what worried me most from what Anastasia had
It would have been easier to understand if she had said I had to shave, or stop smoking, and, when I approached the child, wear clean clothing. But she spoke of consciousness and internal cleansing. Where do they sell the brush to cleanse something inside you? What was so very dirty inside me? I may not be better than others, but I’m no worse, either. If every woman started presenting the man with demands like this, one big purgatory would have to be set up for humanity. This is illegal. I’ve brought Anastasia an excerpt from the Civil Code which says that one parent does not have the right to deprive the other without grounds of the opportunity to see his own child, even if the parents are divorced. Of course, our laws mean little to Anastasia, but this is still a weighty argument. After all, most people follow the laws. I also could have spoken more sternly with Anastasia. She and I should have equal rights to the child. I’d had the idea of speaking more sternly with her before, too, but now I’d had second thoughts about my original decision. Here’s why: in my backpack, along with everything else, were readers' letters. I didn’t take them all because a great many letters come in. They wouldn’t have all fit. In many letters readers regard Anastasia with understanding. They call her a messiah, a taiga fairy, a goddess, and dedicate poems and songs to her. Some speak to her as if she were their closest friend. This stream of letters compelled me to make a great effort to make sense of my own actions and statements.
I had to sit on the bank by Egorich’s launch for three hours or so. Night was approaching when I saw two men coming toward me and Egorich’s grandson with them. The first, elderly, looked to be about sixty. He was wearing a canvas raincoat and rubber boots and had a flushed face. He’d obviously been drinking because he swayed slightly as he walked. The other, younger, about thirty, was sturdily built. When they came closer I saw streaks of gray in the younger Siberian’s dark brown hair. The older man started to speak as soon as he got close.
«Hey there, traveler! Want to see Anastasia? We’ll take you. Get out five hundred thousand for carriage plus two bottles.»
I already knew I wasn’t the only one trying to get to Anastasia, which was why his fee was so high. For them I was just another pilgrim going where Anastasia resided. But I still asked, «Why do you think I need to see some Anastasia and not just go to the village?»
«Okay, the village, if you say so. Get out your five hundred anyway. If you don’t have five hundred, we won’t take you to the village.»
Egorich was not speaking very nicely to me.
«They take that much money for transport and aren’t friendly," I thought. «Why is that?»
I had no choice but to agree, though. But instead of being happy about the money and, most importantly, the two bottles of vodka, which he sent his younger partner off for, Egorich treated me with even more hostility. He sat down on a rock next to me and muttered to himself.
«The village. . . . What village? Six houses of people barely
«Do you take visitors to see Anastasia often? Is it a good business transporting them?» I asked Egorich to get the conversation going and temper his hostility. But Egorich answered with irritation.
«Who invited them? Uninvited dolts hauling themselves there. Nothing stops them. Did she invite them? Did she? No! She told one about her life. He wrote a book. Fine. Write. But why give away the place? We never did. He meets her once and writes about her whole life, and gives away the place. Even the old women realized she’d have no peace if it was given away.»
«You mean you’ve read the book about Anastasia?»
«I don’t read books. Sasha, my partner, likes to read books. But we won’t take you to the village right away. Too far. The propeller on the launch is kind of weak. We’ll go as far as the fishing shack and spend the night there. In the morning Sasha will take you the rest of the way while I fish.»
«So be it," I agreed, and I thought, «It’s good Egorich doesn’t know I’m the author of the book about Anastasia.»
Sasha, Egorich’s buddy, brought the vodka. They stowed the fishing tackle in the boat, and then Egorich’s grandson Vasyatka nearly scotched the trip. He started asking Egorich for money for a new radio.
«I’ve already hauled a pole over for the antenna and figured out how to put it up," Vasyatka said, «and I have the wire for the antenna. When you attach the antenna to the radio you catch lots of different stations.»
Книга: Book III: The Dimention of Love