“ Secular survival is an inception of trepidation and consternation. It effects parturition, development, maturity, and ailment and consumes in expiration.
Secular subsistence induces as well, time and the field of activities, which deliver undesirable modifications and sufferings.
In an identical culture, the character of the civilisation evolves into deterioration.
Such an understanding of sustenance, demonstrates the subjugation of the spirit.
The absence of fear and time are the achievement of satisfaction.
The disclosure of veracity and enlightenment are the origin of emancipation, the cause of ultimate freedom of the spirit.
Truth and knowledge are the most attractive, discernible requirements for the enrichment of the spirit. “
The day came, when Victor had to visit Madeleine. He had decided to take the Metro to the end of the line of Medvedkovo, which was the far northern part of Ostankino, more than thirty kilometres from the center of Moscow, and then take a taxi to the address given to him by the " House of Addresses ".
It was a sunny, glorious Sunday. Still frosty but fresh morning. He had to make one interchange at Kirovskaya Linya and take Turgenevskaya Linya for his destination.
He was in a joyful disposition. He was on his way to perform a long overdue favour for his mother. Her address and her marital name in his pocket, he got on the road.
After coming out of the subway station, he got a taxi and gave the address to the driver. The indication from the driver's face was not very encouraging.
" Are you staying there, or coming back soon, because the roads are very muddy there, I don't want to drive all the way there and return empty ?".
For a moment Victor had no answer. A thought came into his mind. He showed his Foreign Student card and he said.
" It is my first time, I don't know if they are at home, take me anyway, I will reward you ".
Soon the paved road came to a halt. The track turned to gravel. From melting snow, the gravel turned to mud. Side walks disappeared, and were replaced with open sewerage ditches along both sides of the route. Brick or stone houses were replaced with unfenced mud or clay, single story huts, sheds, shacks, with wooden doors, without windows.
Victor's eyes were wide open, with a surprised expression. He was holding the car's front board, to avoid knocking himself to the ceiling, from the swings and bumps.
" Am I in the wrong place ", he was wondering.
He has never witnessed anything similar. A whole community, right outside Moscow, living in such deplorable state.
A bus passed from the right side and drenched the taxi with mud. The driver swore and muttered incomprehensible words.
Victor's confident expectations were ruined. He totally got demoralised. For a moment, he thought to ask the driver to get back, to the Metro station.
He saw young and old people walking along the side sewers. There was life, among these shanty neighbourhood.
He was cheated of a Diploma, for not conforming to a communistic ideology.
The taxi made a right turn, and a little brick cottage came into view.
The driver asked for the address again.
" 225 Gostinichnaya Ulitsa ", said Victor, looking at the cottage.
There was an elderly woman in front of the door.
" You want me to wait ?", asked the driver.
" No ", said Victor, I'll be all right, thank you, here, five more Roubles ".
My dearest mother,
It is past midnight, and I lost my sleep. Today, I finally went to visit Madeleine. She lives far away from Moscow, more than thirty Kilometres away. I got there by taxi. I learned now that buses have services there.
The moment I got out of the taxi, when our eyes met, as if she knew me for many years, she approached me with open arms, she embraced me, and her first words were, " Victor, my love, what are you doing here? ". I explained to her, that I had come to study. She invited me in, with tearful eyes, and she said that I very much resemble you. She couldn't stop crying, her speech was interrupted with uncontrollable sobbing. It was so heart breaking, that I started crying too. I didn't know why I was crying, but I felt that there was a uniting bond between us. You had told me that she had babysat me. How much closer could I get of that fact?
When I saw her at the door of her cottage, at first she looked like an old woman, with lost hair and teeth. She was different than her photo you gave me. Of course she was much younger then, but she had changed enormously. She excused herself for a minute, and I looked around. It was a single big room, with two beds in both corners. A wardrobe, dining table with chairs, wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling bookshelf, full of books. A sofa across the bookshelf, which I was sitting on, small desk with a chair, a glass case full of small gadgets.
When she returned, her eyes were red, but she had calmed down. My first impression had disappeared. She looked like a very dignified lady, who because of tremendous suffering had aged before her time. She brought me a glass of lemonade, and asked me if I could stay for dinner and meet her son Vincent, who had gone to a Komsomol meeting.
She brought up a photo album, most of it you and her in different places in Paris. She cried again. She was constantly wiping her eyes and conversing at the same time, as if she wanted to tell me, twenty years of a tortured life in a few hours. I told her I want to hear her story, from the beginning of her migration, to this moment, because you wanted to know what happened to her, and I would stay for dinner and meet Vincent, like you told me to become a friend of him. She talked about her years of friendship with you. Her happy years in the conservatory in Paris. She asked about her father, Papa, and when I told her that he was deceased, she completely collapsed. She was devastated, but she seemed also acquainted with pain, she recovered after a while and asked how is Maman. I gave her Maman's package, and yours, she put them aside. She went back to her stories, on how Sergey, her husband, was exiled and she had never heard a word from him, never. Her only consolation was her son. The authorities had forbid her to work at the conservatory; they had even prohibited her to give private piano lessons. She thinks, because her husband was labelled as a traitor. She does knitting for a living and receives a subsidy from the government, for her son.
Vincent arrived home in the afternoon. She had been talking for hours, sometimes apologising that she couldn't stop. I didn't mind, because I felt she had kept all this bitter feelings in herself, and I was the only one she could trust to talk.
Vincent is twelve years old, a very outgoing chap, very successful in school, and full of millions of questions about France. It will take a while to answer them all.
During dinner Madeleine asked me an expected question. " How in the world you decided to come here for education? France cannot offer you the same? Are they bombarding you with communist propaganda? Son, be always careful for what you say. How is your room? are you sharing it with a Russian student. They implant one of theirs as an informer."
But Vladimir, my roommate, mum, is a very sincere person. I trust him, and I promised Madeleine to take him over one day.
Anyhow, the time passed very quickly. I had to leave. I had to go back to study.
All I can say, is that I am glad you insisted to meet her, she is a lady of absolute kindness, patience and highly intellectual, and surprisingly, after all the hardships and suffering she has gone through, she is strong and has a contented heart.
I promised her in my next visit, I would take my camera, to take some photos to send them to you. She refused, telling me that her present appearance doesn't deserve a photo.
My love to you and dad. I will try to write you in detail Madeleine's ordeals, in my next letters.
Your son, Victor.
Victor couldn't resist the temptation of visiting Madeleine, before living for summer holidays.
He was captivated by her intelligence, anxious to know her story and concerned about her welfare. Even Vincent had left an admirable impression on him.
So the following Sunday, he decided to travel to Ostankino to see Madeleine and Vincent.
She welcomed him with open arms.
" I never believed I'll see this day ", she said, as soon as she so Victor, " I always prayed that I return to my homeland, one day, to see your mother, and now you are here. Since your first visit a lot of thoughts have passed through my mind. Will you be able to return to your mother, when you graduate? Why did you come this horrible place, to begin with? You're so grown up; you were six years old when we left France. How is your mother? I am sorry that I have so many questions, this is the happiest days of my last… seems to me hundred years."
" Where is Vincent? ", asked Victor.
" Komsomol meeting, dear, they are the young communists, they have to be one. Anyway I don't want to talk nonsense. It's the way this country runs. He will be back."
" You are not a communist, are you?" she asked suddenly.
" No, Madeleine, I just came to study, I didn't want to be a burden on my parents, and I receive ninety Roubles a month as well as free education ".
" I want you to write your mother and tell her why I kept silent all these years. Maybe I should mention, that your father also should know, how mistaken he was to let us migrate to this hell. When we moved to Moscow, to Ostankino, all our belongings followed us by train a week later, in three big containers. Sergey had done a magnificent job, by packing them. When we arrived, they assigned this single room cottage to us. From the very first day we sensed the jalousie around us. They started calling us names and even one day Sergey was spit on. Then one day a truck brought our cases. They stopped in front of the door and through those huge trunks down their truck, and left. All the glasses were shattered, all the wooden pieces were broken, but with big patience, Sergey put things together, what you see around you. All the shattered glasses filled alone a trunk.
A week later, after dinner, we visited the next-door neighbours, just a simple visit. When we went in, they had their speaker, which was our only " Radio ", so loud with propagandistic achievements, that Sergey told Misha, our neighbour, to turn off the damn thing and he swore at the speaker.
The next night, after midnight, there was a loud knock on our door. I was almost nine months pregnant. I jumped from my bed, as did Sergey. He knew. We knew. Doors knocking after midnight had only one meaning. Two men in black suits came in; they said the Article 58 of the Criminal Code, and the section 10, which made virtually anything imaginable an offence against the Soviet State, was arresting Sergey. They took him out, in the freezing cold. There was a truck outside, full of people, he climbed in the back, looked at me for a moment, I saw the tears in his eyes and they drove away. He never waved. I went in, not very long after, in the morning hours my labour pains became unbearable. Vincent was born, here, in this room.
Let me take my breath for a second ", she continued. " Now, the reason I stopped writing, was, that, your father, and the outside world was so ignorant about the realities here. The western correspondents, hearing that high ranking communist leaders were pleading guilty, admitting their own treason, accusing themselves, surely they assumed there must be some truth in the conspiracy theories. They mistakenly thought justice was being implemented. They were dead wrong. Your father, Victor, was one of those mistaken persons.
I know I followed my husband, who in reality, we never married; I followed him with blind faith. I take that responsibility, but your father, your father, should have said something. My anger have softened at the present, but I haven't forgiven him yet."
It was too much for Victor to absorb all this conversation. He knew it was an extraordinary story.
" I will be away to Leningrad and Yalta, for the summer, Madeleine, as soon as I return, I am coming to see you, if you don't mind, I will bring my room mate with me."
" My door is always open for you. What is your room mate's name?"
" Vladimir, believe me Madeleine, he is a very good person. You know, his father, according to him, went to war, and never came back. He told me how he has been asking for his whereabouts, after he returned from military service. The government never gave him an answer; he thinks he might have died. "
" You're opening old wounds again, son, I know how he feels, bring him with you, at least he will have a nice dinner, and he may open his heart. There were thousands of prisoners of War, in Paris, after the Liberation. When shall we see you again?"
" In a month. I wrote my mum, and I told her how glad I was that she insisted to find you. Where is Vincent? This komsomol affair takes all day?"
" Victor, you know I was a strong believer of communism, until of course I set foot in the heart of communism, and found out that there was not much difference between Hitler and Stalin, except that Stalin killed more people, but as far as the youth is concerned its the same thing. The young has to obedient. The youth is seduced for their own purpose. The youth is told that they are shaping the future. The komsomol is " collective experience ", they are an ideological and military organisation of little soldiers. The propaganda technology of the Soviet Union is much smarter than Hitler's, because it took many, many more years to develop. The young komsomol is taught to love his country, to fight for his country, and to protect the continuation of Lenin's teachings. Vincent is young, I try to explain to him, but he argues with me. He has been taught that the West is trying to destroy the Soviet Union ".
" You're so right. I had an argument, the other day, with some students. They have the mistaken notion that the West are warmongers. They told me that the creation of NATO is a proof that the West is preparing them for war, to attack the Soviet Union. They really believe this fabricated lie. I explain to them, by just bringing examples of East Germany, Berlin, Poland, Czechoslovakia, or even Korea. You know what they said; the Soviet Union was invited by those countries to defend them against imperialism. I cannot believe, or comprehend their naïveté. I am changing my attitude, Madeleine, the teachings are excellent, except the History of the Soviet Union, and I have turned very sarcastic towards that subject. I am not even attending the classes. When I come back from holidays, I will ask the faculty, what is the importance for learning the History of the Soviet Union for a Foreign Student?"
Vincent arrived. As soon as he came in, they noticed from his look, that he has gone through a traumatic experience.
" What happened, son, tell me, what happened? ", asked Madeleine, herself in fear.
" Mum, you don't believe what I saw. On my way back, in the Metro, this man was trying to get into this other man's pocket. This woman saw what was happening and cautioned the man, to watch his pocket. When we reached the last line of Medvedkovo, I got out. Then I saw the thief approaching the woman and with a blade he cut across the eyes of the woman, and shouted, " next time you will not see
anything ", and kept running out of the station. It was so horrible, the woman fell on the ground, blood was all over her face, people surrounded her, so I couldn't see any more, and my bus came. That's why I was late ".
" Did you know the woman, son, if she got off our station?"
" No, mum, I haven't seen her before ".
" Good day Frenchman ", said Vincent, extending his arm for a handshake.
" Good day, young Pioneer, I brought my camera, to take a few photos of you ".
" Can I see it, for a second, please?"
" Leica, 35mm, with zoom lens. That's what I want to be, a photographer ".
The first scholastic year came to an end. The results were due in a few days. What was peculiar and different for Victor, was the system of the exams. All the tests on his subjects were done orally. At the start of the examination, two students were let into the classroom. A panel of three teachers sitting behind a lectern, would invite the students to pick up one, from a box full of sheets of paper, each comprising of three questions. The first student had half an hour to prepare his answers, and deliberate orally his response to the teachers, who then questioned him if he failed to be precise on his explanations. Each correct answer gets three points. Half a point deducted for incomplete answer, and no point for a faulty answer. Then the student goes out of the class room and another students gets in and picks up a questionnaire. And so on. One subject will take a full day, with a lunch break. At the conclusion of all the results, of all the subjects gone through the tests, the average of all the points, determine whether you have passed or failed your class. Confusing but true.
Victor's interest had been diversified since he started his classes. He had created two major hobbies. One was his record, with a wide variety of classical music. He didn't have just one single concerto, by one single pianist. But the same concerto performed by different pianists, by different orchestras and by different conductors. He was immensely proud of his extensive selection. The second hobby was his books. Soon after settling in his room, with Vladimir's help, they had built a bookshelf with plywood and bricks, which rose up to the ceiling. He catalogued his books, alphabetically, and many of the titles had several volumes.
Other interests were, going to the Opera and the Ballet. Anaïs had always information about the ongoing performances, with his Foreign Student card he had free entrance and she would only pay one Rouble. It was a delight to attend any of the regular repertoires and even more fascinating to be present when a foreign soloist would visit. They had a platonic relationship.
Laying on his bed, his mind was travelling from distance to distance.
Now, Madeleine and Vincent had appeared on the forefront of his life. He had found a family. Madeleine was a distinctive image of his mother, with all her warmth, attention and affection. Vincent, the figure of a young brother that he never had.
Jean and Philip with their full time occupation on their education had drifted away from the foreground.
His major preoccupation at the present was to rebuild Madeleine's and Vincent's lost, tortured, and painful life that was uncovered in front of him. She had gone through harrowing moments in her life, she had experienced horrendous events. But the most disappointing and deceiving consequence of her tribulations was the separation from her music.
Victor was heading towards a mental and emotional distress. Pessimistic and contrary thoughts were taking shape in his mind.
" If you want to live, you have to turn invisible in this society ", he thought despairingly.
While carried away with his thoughts, Jean and Philip had quietly opened the door of his room.
He jumped from his bed, unprepared at the intrusion.
" Victor, you might not like this news, but I'll give it to you any way ", started Philip, " if we join the Student Union, we cannot separate from them, but then we'll have free transportation, lodging and meals. What do you think?"
" I don't want to have a leash around my neck, guys, I'll stay ", was Victor's short answer.
" Well, we're planning to go, Victor, we think its a good deal. Sorry we're not going to be together ". Continued Jean.
They hung around for a while, playing couple chess games and listening to music.
" We better go, Victor, we have each a date tonight with two girls, who are sisters, I wonder how it's going to end up ", said Philip on his way out.
" Good luck, guys, I'll see you later ".
He stretched on his bed again. An unexpected thought struck him.
" I'll ask Vincent to accompany me to Leningrad ". And he seemed content with the idea.
It took hours of persuasion by Victor to have Madeleine agree upon permitting Vincent to accompany him to Leningrad. But he succeeded.
They left from the Leningrad Rail Station, early in the morning. An overnight rail trip. When they arrived at the Moscow station, in Leningrad, they saw baboushkas, grandmothers, approaching the travellers and offering them lodging. Vincent with his fluent Russian, asked one of them how much was the room for a week. The woman asked them where they came from. Vincent naïvely said they were foreign students, from Moscow. Meanwhile Victor was listening to other conversations, and he heard that a week rent for a room was between five and six Roubles. This greedy grandmother asked for ten Roubles.
" How far are you? Asked Victor, with the intention to dump her.
" I can take you walking, its on Suvorovsky Prospect, two beds and breakfast ". She said.
" Six Roubles " said Victor, and walked away.
" Eight Roubles ", insisted the woman, " I am a lonely woman, I'll make nice peroshkis too ".
Vincent looked at Victor and they nodded each other. They followed the baboushka.
It was ten o'clock in the morning. They left their luggage in the room and headed to the center of the city.
For Vincent it was a whole new experience. At every step his amazement was followed by…
" Victor, look at this building, Victor, look at this mansion…"
They were walking along the architecturally glorified Nevsky Prospect. They approached the Kazan Cathedral, which is circled by a colonnade and surmounted by a high dome. Totally admirable. There, next to the frontage, the colossal statue of St. John the Baptist.
They approached the bronze door. On the right hand side of the door a sign read : " Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism ". For Victor, it was a disappointment. For Vincent, nothing to worry about.
" Let's go around the Neva river and walk on the embankment, close to the Hermitage, Vincent, if the skies will be bright to night, the Summer Gardens will be full of people, we'll come back again tonight. All right?"
On the corner of Nevsky Prospect and the Dvortsovaya Embankment, they stood captivated again. On the square in front of them, opened up the splendour of the Winter Palace. This was truly imperial.
" How wonderful, to see such a decorated palace, Vincent, isn't it beautiful and superb with its architecture. The first time I saw a similar colossal display; it was when my parents took me to visit the Versailles. Except that this one is more glamorous and graceful. I am glad we came to Leningrad,
are you? Are you having a good time? Vincent ".
" Yes, Victor, for the first time to leave home, it is like being in a dream. And being in Leningrad, with you, it is like a dream come true. It never crossed my mind, that one day I would have travel, anywhere. Wait till I recount this to my mum. Victor, you didn't use your camera, yet. Can I take a picture of you, and you can take a picture of me, please?"
" Yes, of course, Vincent. I got carried away. I like Leningrad better than Moscow, but don't tell that to anybody. I'll go across the square and take some photos of you, standing in front of the Palace ".
" Let's walked to the Summer Gardens, and then have a lunch and go to our room to have a nap, so that we'll be able to go out to night and enjoy the twilight ".
Vincent abruptly, stopped Victor, came closer to him and with a low voice, he asked.
" Victor, have you noticed, across the street, that man in a suit, following us?, I saw him the moment we left, the apartment ".
" We are not doing anything wrong, are we? There was a hotel, close to our place, let's go there, and then we go home, don't bother with things like that ".
In the hotel's restaurant, they got a table near a window, looking over the street, called Brodsky, off Nevsky. The man in the suit was across the street, looking into a shop window.
They were being followed and watched. By who and what was the reason?.
In the evening, when they went out to witness the famous enlightened dusk of Leningrad, they noticed the same man in his dark suit, pretending to go the opposite way.
On Nevsky Prospect, which comprised of dozens of shops and restaurants, Victor instructed Vincent, for them to go into one of the shops, and come out a few minutes later, and see if the man was still following them. And here he was, coming towards the shop.
Victor confronted him.
" Hey, why are you following us, what do you want, we can call the police, you know?"
The man, quietly, with no response, crossed the street and disappeared.
The NKVD, the People's Commisariat of Internal Affairs, was on alert. A foreign student was travelling on their land. What was he up to? Or, was it Vincent they were following. Who cares?
When they arrived at the Summer Gardens, the sundown was obvious, but the twilight was slow to cover the skies. It looked as if the darkness of the night had passed and the morning dawn was back again, with no loss of time. It was fascinating for both of them. This was the phenomenon called " White Nights ". They wandered around the park. There were a group of girls, gathered, singing songs. They watched and listened to their songs for a while, until one of the girls approached Victor, and asked him, were he comes from. Victor was surprised.
" How do you know I am a foreigner ", he asked.
" From your clothes and your shoes, and the way you look ", she answered.
" I am a student from France, I study in Moscow, where do you come from?", asked Victor.
" I am from Leningrad, my name is Catherina, What is your name? ".
" My name is Victor, and this is my young brother Vincent. You live here, that's nice, you have a beautiful city. We only have six more days, can you tell us where to visit, and you should know all the corners of your own town ". Joked Victor.
" We all graduated from high school this year. We will leave Leningrad for Moscow in a few days. Just for a few weeks' holidays. What are you doing tomorrow?"
" Nothing special, I had in mind to visit the Hermitage ".
" Well, will you be interested to visit the Zoo, or the Circus, because you can go to the Hermitage alone later."
" Yes, sure. Vincent, we can go to the Zoo tomorrow, and to the Circus the next day, that will be a lot of fun. Agree? Catherina, how are we going to meet, where and what time tomorrow. We rented a room on Suvorovsky Prospect ".
" There is a Metro station, across the Moscow rail Station, do you know? How about eleven o'clock in the morning in front of the station. We will go to Lenin Park from there. All right?".
Both days were exhausting but full of fun and play. Catherine was an exceptional guide and host. The Circus on the banks of the Fontanka River was regenerating for Victor, who, after having a year full of academic pressures, distresses effected by finding Madeleine, and disagreeable encounters with the way of life in the Soviet Union, was completely relaxed and calmed down, and felt disassociated with realities, for a few days.
Then Catherina was gone. They had exchange addresses and hopefully she would be in Moscow on their return.
At the Hermitage, Russia's Historical section was hundred times more stimulating and enlightening than the History of the Soviet Union, in his university classes. Even Vincent found the Russian History more of a true cultural representation of his nation.
In the Caucasian section, Vincent surprised Victor, with a new revelation.
" My father was from the Caucasus, you know Victor? I don't know exactly from where ".
" I didn't know that. When you meet Vladimir, my room mate, you can ask him about the Caucasus ". He said, with a reflective impression.
Of course the most indescribable part of the museum was the section of art and paintings.
The names Degas, Renoir, Monet, Cezanne and Matisse rouse a nationalistic fervour within Victor. He proudly explained Vincent, their origins.
After spending an entire day in the Museum. They had dinner and returned to their room.
" Let's go at the record shop on Nevsky tomorrow, I like to look for something new, before we leave, Vincent ". He said.
The news about Vincent's father, being from the Caucasus, that Vincent himself revealed to Victor.
And the story that Vladimir's father left home to go to war, again from the Caucasus had become inconceivably puzzling for Victor.
Was it a mere coincidence, a parallel conduct, with no connection, or the resemblance of the stories, had a fatal liaison ?
He knew that Madeleine's husband, or to be exact, Vincent's father, was a Prisoner of War, who had escaped from Germany to France, at the end of the war, and they met in a hospital. And his name was Sergey.
He knew also, what Vladimir had told him, that his real surname was Alexandrov, and his middle name came from his father's name, Sergey, who went to war and never returned.
It existed an association between the names.
Madeleine Findji Alexandrov.
Vincent André Sergeyvitch Alexandrov.
Vladimir Sergeyvitch Tamarov ( Alexandrov ).
" This cannot be real ", he thought to himself, " Before I will introduce them, I must find, if Vladimir's father was in France any time ".
It was a very sensitive matter for both sides, and for him. It would create a traumatic effect on Madeleine. Who knows how Vladimir will face it. Will he be disappointed if he finds out that his father had returned to Russia with another woman carrying his child ?.
He had fallen in a very complex dilemma. He really wanted to turn this coincidence into a happy ending, but how. Somehow, he felt it was well above his head. Third parties had committed blunders, and it had fallen on his shoulders.
The trip to Leningrad was greatly enjoyable and fulfilling, both for Victor and Vincent. On their return to the Leningrad Rail Station, Vincent had gone home and Victor returned to his room.
Vladimir had taken a job on a construction site, as a labourer. He had to support himself.
Victor had over ten volume of books to read during his holidays, to catch up with the studies on his second year. His social activities were mostly the same. Anaïs would visit him and they would venture out to different entertainments. On weekends, Vladimir and he would go to the Stadium to watch a game of football, or stay in the room and have several games of chess, which by now, Victor had advanced well enough to challenge Vladimir.
" Vladimir ", He asked him one day, " Next summer I might go home for holidays. You remember, when you told me about your father, you said, I might look for him one day when I return. What makes you think your father is in France ?. If you have any proof, I really would like to find him for you ".
Vladimir's smile faded and his facial expression turned to sadness.
" This was about five years ago, when I first came to Moscow for my military duties, I went to the information bureau for the Prisoners of War, They looked for his name and they told me that he was in an insane asylum in France. A second time when I went, they said he was in an insane asylum in America. And a third time, they said he was dead. So which one to believe.
Victor, all I want to know is the truth, whether he is alive or dead, that's all. I am young, I'll find out one day ".
" The last week or so, I came upon some revelations. Please, Vladimir, listen to me with concentration. My mother's friend, Madeleine, who I found. You know. Her last name is Alexandrov. Her son, Vincent, told me, when we were in Leningrad, that his father was from the Caucasus. Madeleine met his father, who's name is Sergey Alexandrov, in Paris. They fell in love with each other and moved to Moscow in 1948. Two or three weeks later, Sergey Alexandrov was exiled for betraying the State. His son, Vincent was born later. I am very much in bewilderment, if there is any association in this saga, which is related to you ?, If there is, you have come closer to solve the mystery of your father's whereabouts. Do you like to meet her ?. She is a marvellous lady, who has suffered a lot. Don't built up much hopes, your father is still missing, but at least you know he is on this soil. Would you agree ?."
" I don't know what to say, Victor. The day you entered this room, I had a feeling that you were the bearer of good omen. That was the reason, I said, might be able to look for my father. And now you're telling me a blend of events that might resolve the anguish that I carried with me all my life. I like to meet Madeleine, if she would like to meet me. Of course my father will not be there. But I don't blame her for anything. If my father had fallen into German's hands, he was regarded as a traitor, anyway. I know the laws of this country ".
" If that's how you think, Vladimir, I feel much better now. I'll visit Madeleine and Vincent, who might turn out to be your stepbrother now, and uncover this incredible encounter to them, tomorrow. I am sure she will be emphatic about meeting you, since you both had the same fate of loosing the same man, as a father and as a soul mate ".
W W W
When Victor arrived at Madeleine's, she had gone shopping, for food. That was a task that would take hours, because there were queues for every single item to buy. Never mind, Vincent was home. Victor had a few exposures left in his camera, so he took advantage to photograph the cottage, and scenes of the despondent neighbourhood, during Madeleine's absence. Vincent was all the time questioning Victor about France. This time it was Victor's turn to ask the questions.
" Tell me Vincent ", he asked naïvely, " have you seen your father?".
" No, Victor, my father was exiled the night before I was born, I just know him through photos that my mother keeps, from the time that they met in Paris. She even showed your mother, your father and you in one of the photos. You're funny ".
" Did she ever tell you, that your father had another son "? Right at that moment Victor realised he shouldn't have asked that question to a fourteen-year-old boy, but it was an unintentional error. And he continued by saying.
" Forget it, Vince, I didn't mean to ask any question like that ".
Vincent was lost, but when Madeleine came through the door at that moment…
" Mum ", he said, " do I have another brother? Victor just asked me if you ever told me that".
Madeleine had a sombre face.
" Son ", she said, " let me take my breath for a second, Hallo Victor, Vincent told me about the magnificent trip you both had. He wants to travel the world now. How am I going to stop him, I hold you responsible to rouse this passion in him. Where is your roommate? I thought you were going to bring him over, that's why I went shopping specially ".
" Before he comes, Madeleine, I want to talk to you ".
" What is it, son, Vincent, why don't you go to Misha, and ask for their big casserole, please "?
" Did you tell Vincent, that Sergey had another son? ", she continued.
" Well, I asked him if he knew. I guess I shouldn't have done that. But you remember when I told you that my roommate's name is Vladimir, and he comes from Gislavotsk? Well, Madeleine, the authorities, here, five years ago, when he was looking for his father, had told him that his father was in an insane asylum in France. And you know what his name is? Vladimir Sergeyvitch Alexandrov. I didn't know how you will respond to such a revelation, therefore I didn't bring him with me. Sorry, Madeleine, if I am putting you in front of a difficult situation, but it was just an incredible coincidence that I happened to share my room with him. He is a very generous, and intelligent person. Do you want to meet him?".
" How old is he? He must be twenty-three or twenty-four. He was four years old when Sergey left home. I wonder how much pain he has inside of him. Sergey loved him. I think that's why he persuaded me to come. You should write about all this to your father, so he will understand my plight. My heart breaks for Vladimir and his mother. Is she still in Gislavotsk?
Yes, if he wants to meet me, I want to share my sorrow, my misery with him. Bring him ".
The instant Madeleine came face to face with Vladimir, she acclaimed.
" Oh, my God, Vladimir, you look exactly like your father. How can I be mistaken that you're not his son. Please come in, come in Victor, and sit down. I am going to faint, I feel very light headed. Forgive me if I lay down for a minute ".
Vladimir and Victor stood motionless, speechless, expressionless, over her bed.
Vincent went to get a glass of water, it was not the first time he was witnessing his mother's irremediable condition. She will regain her strength in a little while.
Victor noticed that Vincent had tears in his eyes. He approached him, put his hand around his shoulders, and he said.
" Don't worry Vincent, everything will be all right ".
" She is Diabetic and her heart is very weak, I am afraid something will happen to my mom ".
The whole scene was galvanising. Soon Vladimir had tears in his eyes. Emotions were running wild.
Those four people will, never, and never forget what was happening in that room that day. At the same time, this tragic gathering would create one of the most cherished bonds between four human beings.
Finally Madeleine, pulled herself together, sat at the edge of her bed, invited every body to sit down and asked for Vincent to sit next to her, and she leaned towards Vincent, taking him into her arms, and thus she spoke.
" I am sorry Vladimir, I lost my soul mate and the father of my child. Your mother lost her husband and you lost your father. It doesn't make sense, does it? There exists an inequality in this life. Your father was an excellent man. After he was taken away and Vincent was born, I went to the Interior Ministry, to talk to someone, to find out where they have taken him. I met this person, most probably a " chekist ", by the name of Yuri Kalyuchov, I never forget. He found Sergey's file and he said, " I cannot tell you were he has been sent, because his sentence includes the phrase, " WHITHOUT THE RIGHT OF CORRESPONDENCE ". I said " Why, he was a good man, he loved his country, he never conspired against the State. " He said, " Go now, you have a child, be thankful that you're not going to follow
I am realising now that this country has become a world of death. All we wanted was a peaceful and meagre existence. An evil man has imposed death upon us. It seems to me no one will survive this struggle of the proletariat. The history of human society has proven, war after war, conflict after conflict that no one man can claim the life of another. These despots never realise that they are mortal too. Nothing will save them. These foolish dictators think that this life that they have for a few years is all in all, therefore they are killing the vitality of the human energy. Ideals are like old garments, they are due to change. Nothing lasts forever. Only foolish people attach importance to ideals, similarly, foolish leaders make appeal to ideals, which are perishable. Only and only the laws of nature are permanent, everything else is temporary.
They can torture my body and they can poison my mind, but they will never crush my spirit. My spirit is full of knowledge. The knowledge of God. The knowledge of freedom from doubt and delusion. The knowledge of forgiveness and tolerance. The knowledge of truthfulness. The knowledge of satisfaction. The knowledge of charity.
My spirit cannot be contaminated by ideals.
I did my share of talking, I am sorry my boys; you have been listening to me like obedient students. Tell me about yourself now, Vladimir. I can understand how much suffering you have gone through ".
" Daragaya Dama, dear lady. Since I was eight or nine years old, I started asking, searching for my father, until today. I am glad I met you, because, somehow I can fill the gap, from the day my father left home, until this moment. You were part of a period in his life, when I presume he was happy. I hear you have photos of him. You will make me tremendously happy, if I can look at them later. I have promised myself, I will never stop searching for him, until I find out whether he is alive or dead.
On the subject that you talked about, I know exactly what you mean, because both of us are the victims of those ideals of Leninism or Stalinism, who created false Gods and they forgot the power of the supreme nature. I am very glad I met you ".
" Vladimir, you have inherited numerous characteristics from your father. One of them is a sensitive intelligence. The first time he pronounced your name, was when he was in a unconscious state for quite many days, and he was calling for you. I asked him, who was Vladimir. And he said, he is my son that I left behind. And from then on, he always talked about you. He was so happy on his way back, because they promised us that he was bound for rehabilitation, which is some kind of confessions, I suppose, and everything would be all right. I had a position in the Conservatory that never eventuated because I was related to a traitor. My music was assassinated also. For a long time I didn't play piano, until I met Pavel Simianov, who was managing a music shop on Gorky, where I used to go to look for music sheets, at least to read them and sing the notes. And one day, he asked me if I have a piano. I said, I really wish I had one. We became friends, and I used to go to his apartment and play the piano when Vincent was in school. That lasted for several years, until one day he disappeared too. I didn't ask questions, when I didn't see him there for a while, I never visited the shop any more. Victor, Vladimir I am telling you about an unhappy life. I should stop.
Vincent here is five roubles, go with Victor and buy some beer, I have prepared a great dinner. I think we should celebrate this occasion of coming together ".
" Mom, let Vladimir come too".
" All right, you two are almost brothers, you have an exceptional father in common, I also have wine if any one of you wants wine, except Vincent".
Madeleine felt very comfortable with Vladimir. He was a "young" Sergey. So identical.
She set up the dinner table with plates full of different pickled vegetables, smoked fish, black caviar, sour cream, chicken cutlets. The main dish was shashlik, which was skewered lamb meat pieces with tomatoes, onions and capsicum in between, accompanied with rice pilaf.
They all gathered around the table, like a traditional family. There were no prayers, but in the mind and hearts of all of them a compassionate and tolerant notion had taken over.
With Victor's presence, Madeleine was assured that her past was still existent.
With Vladimir's presence, a renewed hope for the recovery of her lost expectations were exposed.
And Vincent, of course, remained her inseparable companion through darkness and light.
After dinner, Madeleine brought a bottle of Armenian cognac.
" This bottle", she said with tears in her eyes, " Vladimir, your father bought the first week we arrived. He said we'll drink it for special occasions. I think this is one of the most special occasions we had since then. I never opened it. Come on, Vladimir, open it, and let's drink for his return ".
Madeleine was aware that with Khroushchov coming to power, he had delivered a strong condemnation against Stalin and on the " Cult of Personality ", a program of deStalinisation was going on, concentration and labour camps were being closed, and purge victims were being rehabilitated.
She was not naïve to believe that democracy would ever be installed, but the hope that Sergey, could return one day, was never extinguished. She had witnessed a few exiled persons returning in appalling figures. But at least alive.
Amid these events, Vladimir's emergence seemed a good premonition of future hopes.
" Now I have two brothers ", suddenly Vincent declared, " I am going to tell at my Komsomol meeting, that I have a brother from France and a brother from Gilavotsk ".
" You don't tell anything, at your meeting ", interrupted Madeleine, " this is only a family matter, dear, you promise me you keep quiet. All right? ".
Time came for the show of photos. They all surrounded Madeleine.
" This one is in Tournus, Sergey and I, in front of the hospital.
" This one is at the Gare de Lyon, when we arrived in Paris. The same day, Christine, Papa, Maman, Sergey and Emile holding Victor.
" This is I, sitting on the couch at Sergey's. And this one Sergey sitting. I took this photo.
" Oh, this one, Vladimir, is the motorbike, which your father stole to escape the labour camp".
Vladimir's eyes were tearful; he was looking at photos of his father that he never knew.
Back to the classrooms.
A day before the start of the second year. Victor received a letter from home. From Christine.
" My beloved son,
The days of calm and tranquillity are interrupted again.
Your father has fallen ill for a second time, this time very severely.
Soon, it will be a month, that I have been spending sleepless nights, near his bed. My priority was to attend and comfort him and dispense his medications. That's the reason I was late to answer your letter, in which you were writing about Vladimir's and Madeleine's meeting. I know that your father was somehow responsible for not cautioning them about the situation in the Soviet Union, but the times were different. You know that he read the part, where you were implicating that Madeleine's tragic circumstances were to be blamed on him. I think that insinuation caused his second heart attack. He was deeply hurt.
The danger, at the present has passed, but his previous health still lags. He defeated the illness but an everlasting effect will linger.
Thank God, he is on his feet for the last few days. Yesterday, for the first time he went down to his office, and made some phone calls. When he returned, he said to write you and inform you that the political conditions are favourable, and that Maman, can claim her only daughter to return to her, because she is over seventy now and she has to be looked after. Madeleine never married Sergey, so she is free from marital obligation. And it is still early for Vincent to go to military duty; he will still need his mother.
But, son, this is a big BUT, the bureaucratic proceedings in the Soviet Union, are extremely slow, there will be applications submitted from here, then the circumstances will be scrutinised, examined and considered by the Soviet Authorities and who knows what else will happen, until she will be able to return, so I want you to sit quietly and patiently, without, I repeat, without opening this subject to Madeleine, until I write you a letter and tell you about the progress of the proceedings. Of course the time will come for her to be involved too. But for the time being, sit still. I hope you understand the urgency of my request. It might take as long as two or three years. Meanwhile, be a good student and contract as much knowledge as you possibly can. Your father is very proud of you. Your letters are convincingly showing the maturity that we always hoped you will adopt.
We are planning to visit Maman Findji the next couple of days. She will be told of the plan.
Tell Madeleine my thoughts are with her all the time. I think your company and Vladimir's surprising revelation will give her the strength she needs until things take shape. I wish Madeleine agrees for a photo. The photos you sent were excellent, I would say, both Vincent and Vladimir reminds me of Sergey.
If you need anything, I might be able to find people travelling to Moscow, I will ask them to come and see you.
I better go, for now, my beautiful son, I love you and I miss you very much.
Do not get lazy with you answers.
He read the letter a second time, and a third time. The more he read the more he felt close to his parents. The news of his father's illness and recovery, his mother's dedication, their scheme to bring Madeleine and Vincent back to France, were encouraging and satisfying.
But there was something missing in Victor's life. Nothing around him was stimulating any more. As if he was repeating the same activities over and over again. And that state of mind had created boredom with immense significance. He felt he was going around and around in a cage. He had exhausted himself inwardly, psychologically, emotionally and mentally. All the sensations, amusements and experiments had become dull.
He couldn't sleep at nights.
A glass of Vodka to conquer his insomnia turned to two and three glasses.
It was hard to wake up in the mornings. He started missing classes.
Vladimir tried to approach him with counselling intentions, but he was rejected.
He stopped visiting Madeleine, who became extremely concerned about him, in vain.
Finally, Philip, who was the " Doctor ", among them, forced him to visit a Doctor.
The Doctor gave his diagnosis.
" Nevrastenia & Gyperehestenia ".
The Doctor explained to Victor, that the total nervous system has connection with the environment, through tissues that control actions and reactions of the body. Since the brain is an integral part of the nervous system, neurology and psychiatry extend over each other. This sometimes causes an abnormal high blood pressure, especially when young.
The Doctor also gave his prognosis.
"The patient needs detachment from present environment, to a more therapeutic location, where climactic benefits will easily cure the symptoms. The Nizhnaya Oreanda Sanatorium, in Yalta, can provide the sea air sleeping therapy, needed for adjustment. I recommend three to four weeks stay."
The 1961 classes, didn't start as planned. After taking the letter from the Doctor, Victor met with the administrative officials of the University. They were dismayed and alarmed by the report. They immediately approved the Doctor's recommendations, they disposed financial provisions and provided a return airline ticket from Moscow to Sevastopol, after which Victor could travel by bus to the Sanatorium.
The day before his departure he visited Madeleine and Vincent. They were extremely appalled by the news of Victor's health.
" What is depressing you son? ", asked Madeleine, " Do not be so sensitive, my love, you have to learn to overlook things. Analysing every aspect of life, looking for the reason of every problem, seems to me you inherited from your father. Sometimes I see, you have the tendency of keeping your thoughts and emotions to yourself, please do not, bring out your hidden pains, don't you see how I talk about my sufferings, with no shame, because I learned how to face them. This trip is ideal, go and try to relax and forget all the miseries you've come across, since your arrival. Don't be bothered with it. Be strong ".
" As soon as I am back, I'll come and see you both, I promise. Madeleine, please do nor write to my mother about this trip, I'll write her later ".
The same evening, Anaïs, Philip, Jean and Vladimir had organised a going away party.
Victor was reluctant, to have a jubilation, after all he was going to miss his classes for at least a month, and his trip was not a holiday, but a time to cease the emotional roller coaster he had been engaged in. But he surrendered to their wish. They ate, drank and talked the rest of the evening.
" Victor, suppose you don't come back, can I have your records? ", said Jean, sarcastically.
" Oh, Victor ", dropped in Philip, " can I have a few of your books?"
" Everything that belongs to me in this room, I dedicate to Vladimir, guys, and I am serious.
Nobody has the right to come in this room, in my absence, unless invited by Vladimir, at his presence. Do I make myself clear ".
The earnestness of his tone of voice was enough for them to wish him good luck and leave for the night. Anaïs gave a warm and gracious kiss and wished him all the best.
" Now that we are left alone ", turned Victor to Vladimir, " I mean what I said, Vladimir. I know nothing will happen to me, but just in case, if I don't come back, all my records, my books, my clothes in the baggage, they all belong to you. I am not taking my camera, which I like you to give it to Vincent. All right? I hope you will visit Madeleine and Vincent, while I am gone. Please, Vladimir, always lock the door when you go out, even when you go to the lavatory, I heard that the Afghany students have been robbed ".
Vladimir went to bed wishing him good recovery and to welcome him back soon.
Victor prepared his luggage, including five volumes of books to read, which were his assignments on his return. Dostoyevsky's "the Idiot", "Crime and Punishment", "The Brothers Karamazov", and Tolstoy's "War and Peace". The classics of Russian Literature.
He was an afflicted young man. Not physically, in fact he was athletic and robust in many ways. But he had been worn out from the consistent culture collisions and contrasts he had encountered. He was brought up in an environment that had influenced his adulthood with the ideal model of communism. And what he had found out was totally opposite of his dreams. Where was the common good of the people? Where was the equality of the people, except that they were all alike in fear, suffering, hunger, and separation of families?
Being brought up with such an independent mind, he had discovered that it was impossible to have a different opinion from the mainstream party ideology. Nobody could have a mind of their own. And above all the mistrust and suspicion within each individual.
With all these difficult indetermination on his shoulders, he embarked on a trip, along with the expectancy to clarify his mind from a contradictory disposition.
He left the Vnukovo Airport for Sevastopol, from where he was escorted to a bus, which took him to the famous Nizhnaya Oreanda Sanatorium. The scenery was incredibly enchanting and admirable. The seashore cliffs along the town of Balaklava, the valley and the narrow entrance of the bay with its clear and calm water. The sanatorium was located to the west of Yalta, separated by a few other resorts. The view was panoramic and attractive.
A feeling of contentment ran through his body.
He was extremely tired, and the authorities complied to his request by immediately providing him with sun, and sea air bathing sleep, outdoors on the decks of the sanatorium.
When he awoke, it was already dinnertime. His supervisor showed him the way to his room, which he was sharing it with another patient, and introduced him his two weeks program.
Three significant authentic daily orders were to be followed.
One was, sleeping at night, on the deck of the sanatorium, overlooking the seashore, and breathing the fresh sea air, from eleven at night 'till seven in the morning.
Second, which will take place after awakening, was the special shower. Encircled with pipes, from feet to head, high-pressured cold water was discharged from hundreds of holes through those pipes, annoyingly piercing every inch of your naked body, for five minutes.
Third was the sulphur baths, which held the body on an even level to water, but extremely relaxing.
Followed by a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and jam, tea and fruits.
What came next was an inevitable snooze. Again followed by lunch, and the rest of the afternoon, everybody was free to do what they like.
Victor had a lot of reading to do. But he also managed to visit the Golden Beach, near Yalta and sight seeing historical centers all around the Crimean peninsula.
What was again somehow disturbing for him, was the fact that the towering majority of the patients were rank and file communists. He had again discovered that the common people could only rent rooms from the local residents, to be able to enjoy the sea and the sunshine.
At the end of his stay, very surprisingly, he was offered a cruise ship trip, for one week, sailing from Yalta, to Sochi, Sokhumi and Batumi, which were Black Sea resort cities.
The ship was called " Admiral Nakhimov ", he was told it was a German ship, captured during Second World War.
This trip was the crème de la crème for the healing of his mode of thoughts.
It was the first time in his life he had undertaken a cruise ship voyage. Leaving Yalta to encounter the vast horizon of the sea, and coming to shore every other day, was like being in a dream. He had no doubt at the origin of the ship, by just finding its impeccable interior, exterior with a matching high quality Russian hospitality.
On the ship he met an Abkhazian gentleman, who was heading home to Sokhumi. He invited Victor for a luncheon in his villa. His family has been living in the area since the Twelve Century. After 1921, when the Soviets acquired Georgia, the law that every adult is entitled to only twelve square meters of living space, was applied to his eight room mansion, thus he was forced to relent his house to three other families, and obliged to share unwillingly.
His wife prepared an Abkhazian cuisine, which they enjoyed in the dining room, which was part of the house left to them, with the most beautiful view of the beaches of Sokhumi.
The host explained to Victor, the old set up of the mansion, before the take over. Its architectural beauty and decor. The functions of each room, the guest rooms, the hall with its windows from ceiling to floor, overlooking the bay. The paintings on the walls and the huge Persian carpets on the floors. The furniture, all brought from different parts of Europe.
Victor admired and ravished the entire construction, and appreciated their invitation and thanked for their hospitality.
The ship was due to return the same evening.
The end of another assignment was getting close, only this one needed serious resolutions.
He sat on the deck of the ship, looking at the shores disappearing beyond the horizon, and comparing the setting to his problems. During this three week period, the only matter close to him had remained his books and the importance of catching up the loss time with his studies.
His parents, Madeleine and Vincent, Vladimir, or his friends, Jean and Philip and Anaïs, were left to fade away in the background, just like the shores beyond the horizon. He knew they were there, and it was effortless to reach them, but he seemed happier if they were left in perspective.
He was to concentrate on his studies, after all that's the main reason he was there, and truly the other factors were distractive, the least to say.
Nothing would sway him from his decision. Classes, library, library classes. That's final.
W W W
As soon as he arrived, Victor visited the Faculty Administration Officials, and thanked them for their generous demeanour.
Then, in order to catch up with his subjects, he met some of his classmates, and received up to date information.
He found his room unchanged, and Vladimir was also deep into studies.
He recounted his trip to him, over dinner that night, on Victor's invitation.
" I am so glad you're back with a good determination to study ", said Vladimir, " We are used to this life, your sensitivity overtook the control of your emotions. You tell me when you need any help on any subject, and we will work together ".
" Thank you Vladimir , yes, all I want to do is to study, but before I start, I have to visit Madeleine and Vincent for a few hours, on Sunday, you can come with me if you like, I will explain to them that I cannot see them every week, but once a month, because I have to get serious with my studies".
A copy of the underground newsletter, " Samizdat ", was on the table.
" Anything new in it ? ", asked Victor.
" No, don't read it ", answered Vladimir, " It will change your mood, there is a story of horrible murder, which of course it never gets published in the Party Presses ".
" Than, why don't you tell me the story, in a nice way ', Joked Victor.
" All right, just tell me to stop when you don't want to hear any more, I don't want you to get sick… This guy was gambling with his three other friends. He kept losing his money, until there was none left. They wanted him out of the game, but he begged them to continue, and instead of money, if he looses again, he will let them have sex with his sister. He looses, but on the way home he realises that his friends are serious. When he arrives home, he takes his gun and kills his sister. The family, totally devastated, and with the fear that the son also will be jailed for life, to protect him, they tell the police that it was an accident. The next day, with great sorrow and anguish, they bury their daughter. A week later, as a tradition, they visit the cemetery, to pray, and what they find is the most abhorring and shocking scene of all. Their daughter had been exhumed, unearthed and the coffin opened, the cadaver taken out and raped.
I was totally aghast by the news, and, Victor , to tell you the truth, I don't want to talk about it. Forgive me ".
" But, Vladimir, did they catch the criminals ?. They were surely the other gamblers. Now that I am over the shocking effect, I will read it later. Can I keep this copy too, with my other collections ?".
The most exciting news in both newspapers, the Pravda and the Izvetsia was the orbital space flight of Yuri Gagarin. His picture had taken the full front of the papers.
He had circled the earth once with the vehicle called the Vostok, meaning the East.
With the success, the USSR had begun the modern era of man in space.
The achievement was broadcasted twenty-four hours a day.
The whole nation was on a stand still. Celebrations were being organised within the university. April Twelve, 1961 was declared a holiday.
Victor and Vladimir took the opportunity to visit Madeleine and Vincent.
This time before heading for the Metro, they went to the market. They had a choice, whether the Sovkhoz market, which was run by the State, or the Golkhoz market, where the farmers would bring and sell their own products from their own land.
Vladimir explained Victor this way.
" The land is owned by the State. All the farms in the USSR are owned by the State. The farmers are employed by the State to work on the land, and are given a certain plan to achieve productivity. Within the State owned land, which, for example, can be, let's say hundred thousand acres, the State assigns one thousand acres to the farmer. The farmer has the right to sell the produce of his thousand acres in the Golkhoz market for his own profit.
The amazing irony of all this is, that the product that comes out of the farmer's own land, not only has better quality, and more variety, but some times more quantity. So our choice should be to go to the Golkhoz market, and encourage private enterprise. We wouldn't find anything in the Sovkhoz market anyway. Agree?"
They bought fifteen eggs, onions, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, cabbages, pickled cucumbers, smoked fish, a chicken whose throat was mangled in front of them, packed with the feathers, bananas, oranges, lemon and grapes, all the fruits were from Caucasus.
They felt so pleased with their purchases. Madeleine had been a very generous host for sometimes now, and it was time for them to return her good will.
Close to the entrance of the Metro, Vladimir entered a liquor shop, and bought a bottle of Armenian Cognac.
" I'll pay for this ", he said to Victor, " She opened my father's bottle to celebrate our meeting with each other, that was unforgettable gesture by her ".
They were both happy with their humane operation.
At their arrival, Madeleine was sitting in front of her door, under the sun and knitting. The moment she saw them turning the corner, she waved with a happy face, and a cheerful smile.
" I have to finish this pull over by tomorrow ", she said, " I have been paid for it already. What are you carrying you both?"
" We stopped by the market and bought a few things for you ". Said Victor.
" You turn right back, I don't need a thing, in fact I just took out from the oven " Pomme de terre au four ", sliced potatoes with ground meat and sliced tomatoes, cooked in the oven. You take, what you bought, back with you ". She said, with an assured voice.
" Madeleine ", said Vladimir, " we didn't bring it just for you, but for us also, we thought we stay here for the night and keep you company and talk about the happy days of my father ".
That was enough for Madeleine to soften her manner. They had become a family.
" Let's go in, I think there are a few bottles of beer left outside in the cold, in the back, and I still have couple bottles of wine, boys, your mother will be jealous that I have you here to myself, Victor, did you hear from her, is everybody all right there?"
" Yes, Madeleine, I forgot to bring her last letter ", said Victor, pronouncing a white lie, " father had fallen ill, but he is well at the present, and Maman will write you a letter addressed to me, so that you can receive it safely. Other than that everything is fine ".
" I am forty seven years old now, and my mother was twenty three years old when I was born. She should be seventy years old, my superb, artistic mother. She always kept herself well.
I long to see her so much. Her dream that I would be on stage, has been shattered. My dream that I would spend my life in the musical world, has been shattered. There are only moments in life. Moments of pleasure and they disappear very quickly, leaving you in a vacuum of torment.
Thank you for coming, boys. I was knitting, seated outside by myself, Vincent has gone to Komsomol meeting again, this one is special celebration for Gagarin reaching the space, they cannot feed their people, but they can send rockets to space. My thoughts were turning gloomy, when I saw you at the corner. You brought a smile to my face. Let's play cards, I have all night to finish this knitting, the front, the back and the sleeves are ready, all I have to do is assemble it ".
" Can I ask you a favour, Madeleine. Since the time you showed my father's motorbike, with which he escaped the German Labour Camp, it has flashed across my eyes so many times. Would you mind showing it to me one more time. I think he had a lot of courage to do such a thing ".
" Vladimir, I'll give the photo to you, you deserve to keep a memento from your father. It has been two years from last time, when I went to ask about him at the Interior Ministry. It was the time when people were returning from exile, there were some of them standing at the door, they called them the "survivors", they looked like hell. Inside, I went to see Nikolai Solenski. They called him Commissar Solenski, I was familiar to him. He looked at the files again, and solemnly turned to me and he said Sergey Ivanovitch Alexandrov's name has disappeared from the files. I turned around and left, not to show him the tears in my eyes. Outside, a woman who I have met several times, approached me and said.
" Many of the victims have been told that their family had renounced them and they did not want to see them ever again, so they found safer to return to the Gulag ".
" I didn't believe her. Sergey would never had believed such a lie. Anyhow, I must go and ask about him again soon. Here is your father's photo, my dear, he used to tell me, how excellent was German engineering to make such a durable, tough and lasting bike ".
" Thank you, Madeleine, I will always cherish this photo. Let's play cards. Change the mood ".
After a few rounds of cards, Vincent appeared.
" Hallo, Vincent, did you meet Gagarin today at your Komsomol meeting ?", asked Victor with a mocking tone.
" No, Mr. Frenchman, but we visited Lenin's Mausoleum, and our leader said they will remove Stalin's body from there soon. Both their faces looked like waxed models…
" I remember ", intervened Madeleine, " forgive me son, when the one and only time I visited the tomb, some of the crowd were crossing their faces and walk away. It was amazing to see at the core of atheism, people were still religious ".
" Mom, you're so right, some of my friends crossed their faces too. But I like the place. I think we have a parade coming to welcome Gagarin, in the Red Square, next week. Victor and Vladimir, are you going to be present, you will see me passing by in the parade?".
" I'll go Vladimir, if you come too ".
" It will look like the November Seven, October Revolution Parade. Khroushchov and his buffoons will be at the balcony, the Generals showing off their medals, wider than their chests and the commoners walking under them like their slaves. I don't mean to be sarcastic, but it's the same thing year after year, except that some at the balcony leaders die or disappear sometimes and the ones underneath them die or be exiled. Forgive me, Victor, If you want me to go with you, I will ".
" Dinner is ready, everybody. Thank you, boys for all the goodies you brought, thank you ".
My beautiful, precious and dearest daughter,
I miss you eternally. I have so much to ask you and so much to tell you.
For a mother to hear the unimaginable torment and suffering her daughter have gone through is heartbreaking and grievously distressing.
During all these years, Christine always consoled me. And knowing that you didn't have anybody to turn too, and you were left alone, in an harrowing environment, made my heart bleed and my eyes have never dried since.
I am so sorry that your cheerful and energetic nature received such a blow, that pain and agony became part of your life.
I sit here everyday thinking of ways to see you again.
Now that you know how Papa died, you will understand how helpless I have become.
From the day you left, he gradually wore out. I witnessed the decline and descent of his health on a daily basis. Nothing would cheer him up any more. Nothing would solace him.
He felt extremely guilty, to let you take that step of moving away.
He walked up and down in the living room, where we had so much happiness and he would repeat to himself.
" Where is God?, where is God ?, where is God ?".
Six months after you left, he retired. He was seventy-five years old and that was enough.
A year later he died. He had his usual Port, couple glasses, and got up to say good night and he collapsed. Nothing I could do, he was gone at that moment.
My dear daughter, we lost our closest friend.
I have been very lonely since then. I know now how miserable you feel, when you're not only lonely but also separated from me.
Thank God, Victor send a picture of my beautiful grandson, Vincent.
Your old pictures are all over the house, and now I have Vincent's picture next to yours on the piano.
I cannot imagine how much he has grown up. Christine tells me that Victor and him are good friends now and they travelled to Leningrad together. How glad I am that you have Vincent to comfort yourself.
You know Emile went through a second heart attack. He is back to work at the present.
They visited me a few days ago. The whole conversation was about you, my dear. Emile, I think, has a guilty conscience for his participation and encouragement and even influence he had, when Sergey wanted to return and didn't heed your enthusiasm, to caution you of the consequences. He was fully aware of the ins and outs of the regime in the Soviet Union, but he kept quiet, not willing to voice his opinion.
The alleviation of his conscience is his explanation that he sent his son, and that proves that the political circumstances are safer at the present.
I am not in a position to point fingers, but even Christine sometimes becomes critical to her husband, aiming to the facts that there is a lack of human rights, which should be considered the most important element of a government.
Anyhow, my dear child, all this assumptions doesn't change the reality that you are there and I am here, and I don't know how long this separation will stay this way.
I asked Emile, if you can only come here to visit and return. You were not married to Sergey when he was taken away. You are still a French citizen I presume. And your mother needs to be taken care of. I am too old to be able to perform the very basic things, to watch after my house and myself. I need you near me, at least for a few months.
Emile promised me that he would look into it and let me know the possibilities.
My dear child, don't built up many hopes, it is a wish I have in my heart, before I die, to see you and my grandchild, for a last time.
I don't believe that you committed any crime by following the man you loved. And it has been quiet many years you have been waiting for his return, alas.
I will keep you informed as to what answer Emile will come up with.
Meanwhile, my dear child, take care of yourself and your son, and if you feel writing a few words, give it to Victor, to mail it to Christine, that's how will make sure we'll receive it.
I miss you with all my heart. Kisses to Vincent. I hope I'll see him one day.
Summer of 1963. Vladimir had completed his courses and was sitting for final examination. The adventures of quotidian schooling were being counted down.
And he was ready to embrace the world of employment.
Victor had promised to take him to one of the exclusive hotels, near the Red Square, for a dinner, as a graduation present. But how? The locals were not allowed to get in. So he conceived the following scheme. One afternoon on his way back from classes, he stopped by Grigori's office, and told him that he had lost his Foreign Student Identification card, and that he was told that Grigori could replace with another one.
Without any question he was issued with another one. He was so happy. He was sure they would have a fantastic time together, in an environment in which Vladimir had never been before.
Vladimir was spending most of his time at the library, preparing his dissertation, on the same subject as his thesis, which he already had submitted. The ultimate test. He was confident; his previous four years were close to perfect ranking.
The day of his exam, he woke up early and went to the public bath, where he could have a long bath for relaxed physique and disposition. On his return, Victor was awake already, they put on the record of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, called " Pastoral ", which he had described it as " One day of pure joy ", when he composed it. Not a word was spoken during the thirty-seven minute performance. The music put both of them in a peaceful mood, and evoked an imaginary picture of country serenity.
The composer, himself had furnished the titles of each section of the symphony.
1;" Cheerful impressions awakened by arrival in the country ".
2;" Scene by the brook ".
3;" Merry gathering of country folk ".
4;" Thunderstorms, tempest ".
5;" Shepherd's song, glad and grateful feelings after the storm ".
" Thank you, Victor, I am totally sedated physically, mentally and emotionally now, my future is at stake, but I am certain it will be successful. Wish me good luck ".
" Good luck Vladimir, I wish you all the achievements you deserve, but I don't want you to go from here, what's going to happen when you leave? Don't forget tonight we are going to the Hotel Moskva, I have an identification card for you, and you can borrow one of my shoes and shirts too, all right? I will wait for you. Good Luck ".
Victor was delighted for Vladimir, but he knew his absence in a few days will create a immense vacuum in his life. They were truly attached to each other. He had to find out what were his plans. Was he staying in Moscow, or was he going to his birthplace to Gislavotzk.
Soon he found out.
The next day of their outing to the Moskva Hotel, during which night, they both drank in excess and became hysterical but tried hard to control themselves and entirely got loose and unrestrained, and went to a series of promises to each other. Some serious some silly. Never lose contact of each other. Always come to each other's help and need. Never swindle each other's girlfriends. And so on. The next day, when Victor awoke around noon, with an intense headache and thirst, Vladimir had gone already.
Anxiety encircled his mind. Uncertainty created the feeling of fear.
Where was Vladimir? Was he gone forever?
Finally in the afternoon, Vladimir entered his room, smiling, cheerful and high spirited.
" Where have you been? God, Vladimir, I thought I lost you forever ".
" I am still here, Victor. I received permission to stay in the dormitory for the summer holidays, but in August I have been assigned to start teaching in a school in Toula, which is not very far from Moscow, almost the same distance as Ostankino. I had to go and apply for employment and to be the first in line, and I was so lucky that there existed an opening and I grabbed it. Once I am on the payroll, after one year, I can apply for somewhere else. I have to write a letter to my mother tonight, and how about if we visit Madeleine later?"
It was time for reminiscence. The end of instructive education had come to a close for Victor too.
Vladimir had left for Toula, and was replaced with two other Russian students.
Victor had been spending most of his time in the library and on weekends with Madeleine and Vincent. His preferences were drawn towards books. During the last academic year, he was prescribe to read over sixty titles of books, some of them with more than one volume. Concentration was the name of the game.
He had mastered most of his subject, except one. "The History of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republic", he had even stopped attending these classes. He just couldn't swallow the lies that were being fed to him about all the "achievements" of the Soviet System, when the reality was so contrasting. He knew that his attitude would have an adverse effect on his final exams, but his conscience was clear, nothing would be imposed on him, without his will.
Once a month he would meet Vladimir at the dormitory and they would spend the day together visiting to some dissidents meetings, visit Madeleine and take Vincent with them to a movie, or just walk around the city or parks and talk with each other about happy or distressful days.
Madeleine had received the copy of her mother's application, asking the Soviet Authorities to grant her a return visa, in order to be close to her mother, who needed physical help, approved by the French State Health Ministry. She was called by the Soviet Authorities for interview and was asked for a specific sum, regarded as penalty against Vincent's gratuities for his education. Maman had agreed to pay the required money, to relieve her daughter and grandson. The process was slow, but it overcame stage by stage.
The retrospection of the last four years would never leave his mind.
Four years of having the privilege of sharing his room with Vladimir.
Four years of witnessing the life of a woman and her son who experienced so much agony and pain, and became so inspirational and stimulating to him.
Four years of attesting human degradation.
Four years of knowledge about the significance of life.
Four years of reading books, the products of the greatest minds that have ever lived.
Four years of social associations which shaped his way of thinking.
Four years of cultural pursuits, from theatres, operas, symphonies and concertos to movies.
Four years, along with part travelling and part learning process.
Four years of disappointments and nerve wrecking experiences.
Four years of enjoying friendships and the recognition of it.
Four years attached to and detached from love, and losing the contest.
Four years with some aversions towards institutional teachings.
Four years along the road of maturity, full of dualities. Successes and failures. Fortunes and misfortunes. Gratification and frustration. Tolerance and anxiety. Good and evil.
The time arrived for Victor to return. Two days before his return, he met Vladimir and Vincent in his room and divided his belongings between them. Vincent wanted his camera. Vladimir received the record player and as many records he wanted. The books were divided between the two. His clothes were divided between the two. They loaded them in Victors three luggage. Victor was left with a small travel bag, for his return.
The three took a taxi and went to Madeleine. They spend the night at Madeleine's, laughing, crying and mostly talking about the wonderful days they had spend together.
Vladimir knew Madeleine would be able to leave the country soon after.
They exchanged addresses, and promised to write letters to each other and give important news. Vladimir vowed to visit Madeleine and Vincent regularly and continue to pursue his search of his father.
The last day, he visited the Administration Offices of the University to obtain the results of his exams. He had passed all his subjects, with distinction, except " the history of the USSR". He had failed. They held on to his Diploma and gave him a Certificate, which he had successfully passed all the subjects in Philology. He objected, but there was no time for protest.