Friends and Anger 10.

I was born in the Ukraine and in the part of it you call the Crimea. On a farm. It was and still is a relatively poor country. Mainly agriculture and forestry. There are plains that run on for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres and forests which are so vast, that if you entered them and can’t find your way back out of them, you can die in them. There’s not much food or free-flowing water in them, but I was always comfortable in the forests near our farm. As a child, I learnt my way in and out of them. Dared myself to go half a mile in and then backtrack my way out. Pretty soon, I had the run of the place.

My father, like my mother and my older brother and sister were semi-illiterate. From what little schooling I got, I learnt to read and write very quickly. The area was multi-ethnic, but mainly Ukrainians and Russians. Whatever you grew, a portion you ate yourself, some you kept to have over winter, some you traded with your neighbours for meat or stuff you weren’t growing and the rest went to market for the best deal you could make.

I had an almost idiot savant talent for languages and soon learnt to speak Russian, which came in very useful when trading with our neighbours who were mainly of Russian extraction. One day, my father presented me with a book he’d traded some grain for. A Ukrainian book teaching you how to speak English. I didn’t realise it until a couple of years later that we lived in a precarious position. If they had to run for their lives, it’d be westwards and perhaps very far westward.

I knew my older brother would inherit the land and that they had concerns about me. I was a sickly child, not strong enough for farming but smart enough to push a pen somewhere in some enterprise, if I’d some useful learning. That was what the English book was all about.

Like all loving parents, he was hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. I picked up the essentials of the language quickly but it was nearly two years later that I actually heard someone speak a word of English for the first time, and realised how appalling my pronunciation was.

Everybody worked, everybody was in the field during the busy times like harvest, even my mother who’d just had our baby Sascha a few months before. With Sascha fed and safely asleep and in a sling of cloth across my mother’s chest, she would wield a sickle to help get the crop in just case there was an early deluge of rain which occasionally happened and could destroy a whole year’s work of farming. There was no tractor, just a horse and a lot of back-breaking work.

If a man was ever born to do one thing well, it would be my father and how to work the land without bruising it. Give him a few acres in the Sahara, and there’d be a crop there at harvest time. In the good years, he delivered a bumper crop. In the bad years, a decent one, while all the farms around him struggled to produce anything. He’d a kind heart and in those bad years, he struck trades with our neighbours which were practically giveaways to get them through the winter.

Anyway, over the years, a superstition grew up that there was something special about the soil on our farm. That proved to be our undoing. The only thing special about the soil on our land was its steward, my father. What you must realise, is that in backward agrarian societies, land is everything. Everything. If there’s any shadow of a dispute about ownership, a vendetta can run for generations. People are quite literally prepared to kill for land.

One day, my mother was planning the ingredients for the evening meal and handing me a small basket, asked me to fetch her some mushrooms. The small tasty ones, Fedeyka. I nodded and headed off into the forest for the one or two glades in it where I knew I could always find exactly the type of mushroom she wanted. I filled the basket and headed homeward. I got back to the edge of the forest.

He stopped and just stared at his cold meal for a few minutes. Like him, she knew in certain conversations your role was just to sit and listen and keep your mouth shut. He stood up and picked the two plates off the table and placed them on the draining board beside the sink. He opened the drinks cabinet and came back with a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka in one hand and two miniature shot glasses held in the first and second fingers of his left hand and his thumb. He placed the glasses on the table between them and filled them both very precisely to the brim.

One he pushed towards her, the other he threw back in one go. She’d never seen him drink in that manner before but now knowing something of his origins, it looked so Eastern European. Natural. A memory of his homeland perhaps. He refilled his glass and took a small sip from it before placing it down carefully on the table.

Some days have no human mercy in them.

I saw our farmhouse was ablaze and my parents and my brother and sister lined up on their knees outside the house. My mother was still holding baby Sascha in her arms. Around them was a large gang of men, all armed, mostly drunk. I recognised some of them as our Russian neighbours. Some of them were ones my soft-hearted father had help get through the winter months. He should have let them starve in the snow like the dogs they were.

Their leader of the gang placed a gun against the back of my father’s head. My father dropped his head in prayer before he got shot through the back of it. He moved across onto my mother. She was a devout woman but instead of dropping her head in a final prayer, she looked up directly at where I crouched hidden at the edge of the forest. I don’t know how, but she knew I was there and watching and the message she was sending was clear – run Fedeyka, live.

He shot her, the front of her face blew out and she fell forward over Sascha. My older brother and sister were murdered in the same way. Then two men picked each of them up by their hands and feet and after a few backwards and forwards swings, threw the bodies deep into the burning house. All that was left to deal with was baby Sascha.

He stopped talking and stared at the small glass of vodka in front. It seemed a long time to her. Eventually, he picked up the tiny glass and threw the contents down his throat. He refilled it and stared at it for a while.

Baby Sascha was three months old and of course screaming her head off. One of them reached down, grabbed her by an ankle and swung her around his head several times before hurling her into the blazing house. She burnt alive. I heard her screeching for a while like a baby piglet. They all cheered at his accurate throw of her straight through the doorway.

For the first time, he raised his head and made eye contact with her. All the shields were down. She got to see the incandescent rage that would always burn eternally inside him but also a sense of nihilistic devastation at what had been a happy innocent life forever blighted by a single moment in time. He looked down at his thimble of vodka and threw it down. He slammed the empty glass down on the table. It was the first time she’d ever seen him come anywhere near losing control, minor though it was.

She leant across the table to pat him on the arm but he avoided it.

Don’t. Please. Please don’t, leaning back out of range.

He refilled the thimble slowly and gently right up to the rim and stared at it for a while. This one he sipped his way through as he continued his narrative.

I’ve no doubt that the murderers, under the pretense of ethnic cleansing, were just there to steal a farm that had special soil. There’s a minimum size a farm can be to support a single family, and we were right on that limit. I’m sure they eventually fell on each other like wolves to decide which one of them would get the land. It was a fantasy of mine for years to go back some day and kill the lot of them one by one in slow and cruel ways.

You told me a while ago that you never wanted to be a victim again. It’s always a moment, an instant in time. Perhaps when you were on the ground and Vincent was kicking you to death, or perhaps later when you were recuperating here. There’s always a moment when you make that resolve or just give up and die. For me, it was watching my family being murdered and that last defiant look from my mother telling me to survive in that last instant of her life.

I made it through to the other side of the forest but kept going westward through the Ukraine. I wanted nothing more to do with my country of birth. It took me nearly a year and a half, but I got through Poland, Germany and then Belgium. I ate raw produce out of the fields, stole whatever else I really needed and generally lived like a feral child.

How old were you when your parents died?

Not died, they were murdered. I was ten.

I got to Zeebrugge, where there were tourist ferries from England to Zeebrugge and back, which I had decided was going to be my new home.

You made that journey just living on stealing and eating raw food?

Not quite. I’d nothing. There was only one thing I had which I could trade for cash.

What was that?

He looked up at her and decided she’d asked for the truth, so she’d get it. After all the years of deception and the promise he’d made, he owed her that. The raw with the cooked. No more lies with her. If she couldn’t or wouldn’t handle it, let her run away.

There’s a large appetite out there for young tender meat, and a lot of people making a tidy profit supplying their clients with a non-stop stream of pre-pubescent children. One man who ran a specialist house like that decided not to give me my cut the next morning. The intention I think was that I’d work for free. By then, my days of being a victim were well over.

He had some enormous goon who acted as an enforcer. I’d seen him kill a child with a single blow to the head. I came up behind him, stamped on the back of his knee to get him down to my height and pulling his head back by his hair, cut his throat from ear to ear. I dragged the body half way into the proprietor’s office, to underline the message. I told him to open the safe, I wanted my money.

He hesitated a moment so I stuck him lightly in the stomach. Not too deep, just enough to get a good blood flow going. He got the message and knelt down to run the combination, the safe popped open and there was a good big stack of cash inside, a lot more than I’d ever seen in my life. People in his line of business can’t use bank accounts. I put my knee on his back and pulled his head back by his hair and cut his throat as well. I took all the cash and there was a lot of it.

He glanced up at her steadily to see how she was taking it; she wasn’t running away. It wasn’t my first rodeo, in case you’re wondering. I’d already killed to stay alive.

That was my first big take. I put a match to the office and got out of there. Over the next couple of weeks, I persuaded various people using Bureau de Changes to change portions of my money pile into pounds sterling for a percentage. I’d no passport, documents of any kind, so I couldn’t do the exchanges myself. I accepted the percentage loss to get my hands on the right currency.

The next task was to get myself to England, specifically London, which proved surprisingly easy because of no border controls. It was just a matter of watching the day trippers from England disembark each day and spotting an unaccompanied one who looked a bit boozy. There was always one of those amongst the disembarking hordes. Predictably, he headed for the nearest bar in town and I contrived to be at his side at the bar. I fed him booze all morning and into the afternoon. While he could still walk, I got him out of the bar and we headed for the nearest park with me dangling a bottle of scotch in front of him like a carrot before a bleary-eyed donkey.

We sat on a park bench and drank our way through the bottle. Not a drop of it went down my throat, but most of it went down his. When he finally fell unconscious into an alcoholic stupor he’d only awake from the next day, I rifiled his pocket for the return ticket that evening and anything else useful he had on him. I left him there, used his ticket to get to England and once in port, had the money to get a train ticket to London, where another life began for me.

He lapsed into silence, as if reaching London was a natural break point. He looked drained, exhausted, obliterated and not just from the bottle of vodka he’d nearly emptied. After knowing him for so long, how could she have missed so much about him? Someone had once accused her of being a selfish bitch. Perhaps it was true. She pushed her untouched glass of vodka over to him. He picked it up and threw it back. He picked up the bottle and refilled his glass again but just stared at it.

He’d run down, like one of those wind up toys that come to a stuttering halt before needing a rewind. But that was an illusion. She could see memories in the interior, memories of old cruelty, brutality and an impression of an isolation flicking subtly across his face. She’d once felt a sense of that same type of isolation many years ago when she’d taken a guided tour around a medieval castle on a grey and dreary rainy day on the Welsh border. It had been besieged centuries before and the outer three walls had all been breached one after another, but in the middle stood the castle keep, the final redoubt, which had not fallen.

She’d stood at its base looking up at it for ages in the drizzle coming down from a black and grey sky. The rain ran down her upturned face in rivulets and she didn’t care, because there was still something massive and disturbing radiating out it. Despite the damage to it, it had stood, it had held, it couldn’t be taken. Even after hundreds of years, its presence was still there, dark, brooding, battle damaged and isolated, but she could feel there was still a terrible strength in it. It had saved the survivours who’d taken their final refuge in it.

He had built a fourth wall of normality around all of the wreckage enclosed behind it and that’s what she had always seen. An appearance of normality.

A fragment of obscure French poetry ran through her head from the French literature she’d studied; puissant mais solitaire. Powerful but alone. She finally understood. That was her Manno. The inner castle keep that would never fall, inside the one by one shattered walls that had surrounded it.

Inside the silent man across the table from her, a loop of terrible things was playing over and over in his head. Memories he’d long-buried were all coming back at him from a different life and different angles and to a different person. He’d thought he’d left them all safely buried behind him forever. And she’d just dug them all up for him again.

She spoke a few words to him, but she was alone in a room.

©Pointman

Click here for all currently written chapters of Friends and Anger.

Click her for other Pointman fiction.

Comments
7 Responses to “Friends and Anger 10.”
  1. Blackswan says:

    Reading Pointman’s blog is a bit like opal mining at Coober Pedy SA … chip a big chunk of quartz out of the rock face and turn it over. Suddenly you’re dazzled with deep, rich colour from the innards of the Earth, and texture that can abrade the skin off uncalloused hands.

    A stunning gem.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. hunterson7 says:

    Thank you.
    Your voice is astonishingly profound and clear.
    You can convey miles if character depth in so few words. Hemingway would have been jealous.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 1957chev says:

    Pointman… You are an extraordinary writer. You hold a reader captive, with your words, only releasing them, when you are ready to do so. I am beyond impressed, once again!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ray Gaskell says:

    Damn you to hell Pointman!
    How can you leave us hanging for so long between “episodes” of this story?
    I have to agree with Blackswan, your writing is truly a hidden gem on the net.

    Like

    • Blackswan says:

      Have you checked out the ‘Fiction’ section under the header pic on P’s blog?

      There’s another serialised story there called ‘Line of Descent’ that will surely get your attention … all 27 chapters of it.

      Do yourself a favour Ray – go fossicking among those treasures; you’ll be well rewarded.

      Like

      • Ray Gaskell says:

        Thanks for the pointer Blackswan. Just finished “Line of Descent”. What a story! And a bonus to be able to read it all in one go. It would have excruciating to have to wait for each instalment.
        You must be in Oz?
        I am up in the High Country at the moment.
        Cheers to you and Pointy

        Like

  5. beenthere says:

    Terrible and beautiful

    Like

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