BY T. Ivnitskaya
Dedicated to the memory of Andrei N.
We were the new green reinforcements. We had been trained but we hadn't yet been un der fire. We were all scared to death and, probably because of that, we all tried to look confident, self-assured, cynical. Fedenko kept telling stupid jokes and everyone laughed even if it wasn't at all funny. I think I laughed louder than the others, and I kept telling jokes too.
Then they were brought there. Their hands were tied behind their backs and they all looked kind of pitiful. It didn't seem right that these kids were the enemy, it didn't seem reasonable. I think that all of them were about my age, except for two old men. Our platoon leader appeared from somewhere and explained about our enemy, and how he should be treated. He also spoke about counterrevolution, and about the security of the home front. It was a whole political lecture.
And they just stood there, their arms tied, pitiful like a bunch of wounded sparrows. I noticed one of them especially, and he too seemed to look at me and smile apologetically. Then again, maybe I just imagined it.
But I felt like there was a connection between him and me. Would you believe, I even wanted to talk to him? I just couldn't get it through my head that this was "the enemy that must be destroyed." And then it began. It was sort of a target practice--like a test. They would put them, one at a time, against the wall of this stupid roofless building, facing the wall. The sergeant, still biting his nails, would call out a name. Then the one that was called would come forward and shoot at the one against the wall. I don't know what my face looked like, but when my turn came I felt unsteady, like something got disconnected inside me. I knew that now, right now, I would have to kill a defenseless guy who stood there with his arms tied behind his back, and in fact, the very same guy that kept looking at me with that strange smile. Kill . I didn't know why and for what. I think he didn't know it either. He never understood it, even later when the end came.
I lifted my AK-47 but I looked with my gray eyes into his black ones. He didn't understand. He, just like me, couldn't understand that in a minute, this blond guy in blue beret was going to kill him. He must have thought that there was a mistake, a misunderstanding, a screw-up--whatever--and that it was all about to be straightened out and we would introduce ourselves, and maybe he'll invite me home for a visit, and all will be well . . . . He seemed to believe this for he took a step towards me--he wanted to say something. I lowered the gun barrel and sighed with relief.
Sgt. Liashko's voice brought me back: "Hey, are you falling asleep there?"
I raised the gun barrel again. I was beyond understanding anything at all.
"Comrade Sgt. Liashko! I request permission to untie him," I said in a stranger's voice, my tongue swollen and dry, not sounding like a soldier at all.
"Have you lost your mind? Follow orders! Use the bayonet! Let's go, now!"
"Please, no, Sergeant," I wanted to scream, to yell, to crawl on my knees and kiss the dusty American-paratroop-style boots that Liashko wore. But instead my voice quietly said, "Understood, sergeant. Use the bayonet. Yes, sir."
He never did turn his back to me. "I am a student," he said in English and I understood him. "I am 21, you see? I am a journalist. I am a student, I've got a mother."
We were supposed to know how to kill. We were taught many possible and impossible ways. It took me six thrusts to kill him. The bayonet kept hitting his ribs, his chest, his bones. The bayonet couldn't find the narrow opening between the fourth and fifth rib, not until the sixth time.
He lay there, his eyes opened in surprise, his mouth open just a little bit with a thin black ribbon of blood slowly creeping across his cheek.
I had just killed a human being, maybe a good human being. I think that I killed two people--him and me.
In six days, if I am not killed, I will be 22 years old.
From: A. Bogoslovsky, literary consultant, Manuscript Dept., Yunost Magazine, Moscow
To: Tatyana Ivnitskaya
Dear Mrs. Ivnitskaya: