Anatoly Altman

Translated from Russian
by Ilana Romanovsky

Part 3. …and a Definitely Non-soft “Landing”.

Excerpts from an uncompleted book

The world literature devotes a lot of space to the subject of arrest, especially Solzhenitsyn, who presents it in different variants. He also wrote a lot about prisons, prison camps, investigation, murder, torture, etc. But the subject of arrest remains a special subject. One looks behind the curtain that separates life and its daily occurrences from what exists there, behind the arrest, after the stop of the movement. You may know this feeling – wake up, wake up quickly, go away, bad dream, go away. Describing another arrest, one of millions of others, is an ungrateful task, but I am not writing about it. The curious thing is this – for people who knew they would be arrested we behaved in a more than strange way. It must be an interesting case for psychologists (if not for psychiatrists). We went on doing what we had intended to do from the beginning. Even after Edik said: “We are being tailed!” and it was clear to everyone that this was true and that there was no hope… Nevertheless, the “no” to our past suppressed all other “nos” and “yeses”, all fears and doubts, for we were unable to go back. We were already free at that time, even though the liberation came after nine years, and still later for some of us. But at that time we had already determined our destinies when we had drawn up the “Appeal” for the case if the Reds shot down the plane; though it was becoming clear that they had no reason to do so and that most probably, they intended to do something more frightening.

Governed by the highest interests of the State, they wanted to have us not as a scrambled mass of flesh and burned metal, but each of us as a separate being, in order to show everyone who could be interested what awaits them behind the line of arrest.

We are meeting at Finland Railway Station, everyone is keyed up, we are trying not to be together for a long time. Even before that, when passing the square and the garden, I tried to trick myself into calming down – okey, this couple… hardly probable, these two, in sport suits, are just lovers of country outings. No, no – everything is clear there. I did not want to believe it, I just couldn't. But Edik said: “We are being tailed. These two and that couple as well.

We got on the train and travelled in different carriages up to the station of Kovalyovo. The platform was almost empty. Who will get off with us? Some people did. Two individuals got off, or, rather, rolled down from the last carriage and walked through the meadow to the wood, independently, separately. And another one, from one of the first carriages, stopped as if waiting for somebody or something. Mark went forward, talking with somebody. We went behind, staying within the field of vision. We passed the meadow and went farther into the wood. On a wide opening in the wood we discussed the situation for the last time and again, none of us expressed a desire to cancel the operation. While we were talking, a “Volga” appeared from the side of the meadow, like in the “Shmerli” wood, and stopped so that we could see it. Could it be that there existed equipment that allowed overhearing at such a distance? Somebody brought a weighty rucksack full of provisions and the four of us, those who were staying in the wood for the night, were supposed to look after it at night and drag it quite some kilometers to the airport in the morning.

The rest of the day and part of the night we talked and slept little. Early in the morning along the meadow and patches of wood, the three tourists with heavy backpacks started in the direction of the airport. Vulf, dressed in an army raincoat, parted with us and walked separately.

After the check-in we left the building and settled on the grass near it. It looked like we were the first to come,– Edik, Yura Fyodorov, Alik Murzhenko arrived later. They also sat down somewhere and even started eating something (what self-control!) I went to the tap to drink; Edik came close to me.

- What now?

- What – we fly.

- Well-well.

Mark and his family sat at a distance. They were eating, their rucksacks were open, foodstuffs and a guitar were lying on the grass... “What are they doing, it’s almost boarding time.” Indeed, there was some mumbling from the loudspeaker. I could only discern “boarding” and “Mednogorsk”. Not our flight. A group of people started moving to the waiting space at the entrance to the airfield. Technicians in blue overalls, pilots in their uniform jackets and caps. Suddenly a shot was heard, probably from the flight controller’s box above the airport. Once more some muttering was heard from the loudspeaker, you could only discern “Sartavala” and some incomprehensible phrases. Well, that’s it. Make a bright face, try to squeeze some idiotic joke into somebody’s ears, maybe it will help yourself to smile. The walk is long, we pass the first gate and stop at the next one which is closed. Then we notice – Mark and his family are not there. A nice sight we will make if the plane starts without him. I jumped with a parachute a couple of times, but never had a chance to fly a plane. Yosef rushed from the line to look for Mark. ”Where to?” – shouted the gate controller – a bespectacled old man, wearing for some reason the same kind of overalls like the guys who were waiting for something at the airfield behind the fence. “I’ll fetch a friend”, - Yosef answered. Everyone waited for him to return. The old man opened the gate, went out of it and waited while all of us trickled away from the waiting space. It looked strange that the Mednogorsk passengers had not yet boarded their plane. They are standing parallel to our line – young and elderly people, women, maybe even a child, bags and suitcases in their hands. I am not looking back, I am looking at the plane, 40-50 steps from us, plane, little plane, the door is open – “Welcome to Aeroflot”.

And suddenly, drowning all the airport sounds, a shriek: “It started!”… Don’t hurry, don’t crowd in on me, memories, anyway, I can’t remember everything. Flashing pictures, close-ups... sounds of suitcases and bags falling from the hands of the Mednogorsk guys, people rushing to us, frozen in their dash. A man with a sub-machine-gun is jumping from the plane’s belly (I even notice that his army blouse is oversized, almost up to his knee, as if it’s a fancy dress party). From a mound on the right another sub-machine-gunner appears, with a sheep dog on the leash. I see how slowly, in slow motion, in twos and threes, they swoop down on Edik, Yosef, Yura, Mendel Bodnya and Alik, who are standing in front of us, try to knock them down, twist back their arms. Mendel is a Latvian champion in wrestling and it looks like the two who are trying to twist his arms are stamping around him without much success. Vulf is standing on his knees like a stunned bull – they dealt him a hefty punch between the eyes in their excitement - he looked so big to them. At that moment I feel that I am in the air, in spite of the weight of the heavy rucksack on my back. In another second - a whack on my feet, I am on the ground, the bloody bag presses on my back, they twist back my arms. I feel that they are tying me up with a rope, what’s this, indeed, as if I am a chicken thief caught in a pen. Everything at once turns into a farce… and all your petty villainy. They keep us in this fixed position for a long time, are they shooting a movie? I am getting bored standing like this. I look at the sky up there – it is blue, blue, already the sky of captivity... It’s clear that we are waiting for the car, and the cars arrive, both ordinary cars and the KGB ones, they put us in these cars one by one, I manage to see Mark, his face is covered with blood – it looks like they dragged him along the pavement. They are taking us to some nearby roughly built houses where they put each of us in a separate room, surrounded with “guardians”. I see Edik in the opposite room, he is smiling his imperturbable, cunning smile, as if everything happened like he planned, in spite of all the enemy’s machinations. I later find out from the records that the first interrogations were carried out in the territory of the airport. About an hour later they take us out, still in handcuffs or with arms tied and push us into cars. We are going to Leningrad. I somehow figure out that I can put the piece of paper from my back pocket under the seat and nobody knows when they will find it... I had the particulars for filling invitation forms for my friends. My spirit rises – the score is 1:1. We are riding along Leningrad streets – the openwork railings and colonnades look as if made of china, like in the Hermitage, embankments, bridges. Quiet, quiet, careful, everything in this word has become so frail and insecure. They say that the Bronze Horseman stands on three points of support, nothing more.

The cars race one after another, right in the middle of the street, in the city center – faster, faster... They, too, have apprehensions of their own – they won’t make it, Jews with sabers will rush on them and free us - happy end, the spectators applaud. Suddenly, after an especially beautiful arch, the car dives into a hole - the gate of a big building. It works like a sluice gate – the gate closes behind the car and another one opens in front of it. That’s it – my whole life will now be in the Leviathan’s belly. Somewhere behind are left the loved ones, Odessa, the workers’ hostel, mother, the sea, talks until the morning, books. Here it is always quiet, half-darkness, half-life, half-food, half-sleep.

They bring me into a room and put me on a chair, my rucksack close to me. My arms have gone numb and I ask to untie them. “Ain’t allowed”. “Ai, ai, ai”, - such nice young men, why do they speak like common cops. One of them rises and phones someone. “Executive Officer Zvezdin”, - he names himself. After a short talk he ties my arms in front of me. “I need a toilet”, - I start whining again. “Wait, there is a line there”. They take me to the toilet, my hands are tied, I start complicated negotiations on the arising problem. And probably only out of the fear to break the toileting schedule they unhitch me, but look attentively at what is happening lest something forbidden will float away. A man is already waiting for me in the room – Pavlov, investigator for especially important cases. “I will conduct your case”. Meanwhile they were inviting witnesses. “Read and sign.” He moved the warrant for arrest to me. The prosecutor, the sanction – I sign. The search starts, every small detail is recorded: “Two bottles of colorless liquid, “Vodka Stolichnaya” written on the label, sealed with aluminum foil.” Then I turn my pockets inside out and they find “a street-car ticket for three kopecks, Soviet money, total sum of three rubles 43 kopecks – three one ruble banknotes, four ten kopeck coins, three five kopeck pieces and a one kopeck coin.” Then they unstitched all the seams and folds of my rucksack and jacket, pulled off my belt and shoelaces and thoroughly fingered all the seams in my clothes and underwear. And after that it was like “the Sovereign’s Word and Cause” [the system of political criminals detection in 18th century Russia – translator’s note], - they took me to solitary confinement manager’s room, one Kruglov. There they favored me with an examination of my behind, my groins and other intimate anatomical details. The person who examined me was a good-looking woman in a white overall. Here I passed the test with honor, my aforementioned organs, including sex organs, were quite loyal and did not hide any anti-Soviet material. We went back, to the investigator’s room. Evening was nearing, no food was given, I felt sleepy. The investigator asked me a number of questions. Whatever I said, his countenance was simple-hearted and sympathetic, as if he was saying that this was his job, nothing doing. Meanwhile new people were entering the room, looking at me and then leaving. Some had short talks with me – did I know what I was arrested for - I answered that I had not been told that. “Things are bad, smells like capital punishment – high treason, a serious article”. My heart sank into my shoes - I had never really asked Edik what this business would amount to. The day, that had started early in the morning, turned to be full to the brink with impressions. Now they are taking me somewhere, this time down, and after a long passage we reach a wickerwork door. The warrant officer rings, somebody looks at us through a small window, the door opens, I am passed on to another person and taken somewhere else. My convoy from time to time taps on metal with his key, sometimes he whistles. We go two stories up, more whistling, a stop, more walking…well, they don’t have a switchman to regulate movement in opposite directions. I am taken to a dark hall. There are niches on the left, a door can be discerned in semi-darkness, the niches go far away and disappear in the darkness. Soft mats are spread everywhere, the stillness oppresses me, I suppress a cough. Another cop comes and opens a cell. I enter and the door soundlessly closes behind me. It touches the lintel and from the sound it makes I can hear how massive it is. The cell’s ceiling is low, it is made of four semi-circled vaults, there is a narrow window opposite the door under the ceiling, the glass is opaque, the iron frame has a chain, there are a toilet and a washbasin on the left. Close to the door there are two beds with iron backs and rare iron strips between the backs, a garbage can near the door, the electric bulb is deep in one of the niches, covered with an iron mesh. There is a bell button to the right of the door. The narrow passage in the middle invites to walk, to exercise, to think. Four steps from the door niche to the window, U-turn, four steps back. I have to turn on the left or on the right, alternatively, otherwise I feel dizzy. The door opens soundlessly and they bring a mattress and a bag, filled with something. I drop on the mattress and feel a wonderful bliss, after trying the left side and the right side and every other position and finding a place that is more comfortable. Sleep starts to envelope me... “And the evening and the morning were the first day”. The first day of the newly created prison world. So, I have to settle in it, to adapt to it, to make it my home.

On the next day, after wake-up, they brought an aluminum kettle and a nicely painted wooden spoon – a souvenir, in good memory of the hole of the Leningrad KGB. Another knock on the food opening, somebody shouts: “Kettle”. I bring the kettle, they fill it with boiling water, give me an aluminum mug and sliced bread, with salted fish on a piece of newspaper. Quite a breakfast. After eating it, I start measuring the room with my steps – four and a half steps in one direction. I start to examine the cell. The cell becomes my Ecumene – everything is mine here and nothing outside of it. I was finding traces of human presence here and there. My distant ancestors, of convicts’ civilization, left on the walls, window frames and even on the glass messages in Russian and English. I found a picture of a cross and a Latin inscription near it. With time my senses sharpened, I stopped smoking on the day of the arrest, fearing a dependency on the investigator. My sense of smell sharpened so much that I felt the smell of the person who was standing near the door, my hearing sharpened as well and I heard footsteps on a soft mat. The food opening opens again: “Surname?”. I give my name. “Get ready”. “What, where to?” The door opens: “Go out, hands behind the back, don’t look back”. More tut-tutting and grunting, I am led by a short tadpole of a man. His face has surprisingly regular features, a forelock on his forehead, who does he look like? We go one floor down – cells and more cells, but there are no guards. They take me into one of the cells – semi-darkness, strange devices. Torture room? There is no one around, perfect soundproofing. Sons of bitches! Do they really start with this? “Go there”, - I hear, and strong light is turned on, in my face, my eyes, the eyes start to water, I can’t see anything. I hear a click, somebody comes up to me, turns me with my side to the wall, another click. The light goes off. “Come here”. Colored rings are floating before my eyes, I can hardly see the face of the man who is talking to me – red hair, freckles. “You like music?” – he says in a rude manner . – “We will play the piano now”. There is a form on the table with empty margins for fingerprints. The cop rolls every finger of both hands first on a little cushion with paste, then on the appropriate margin on the form. “Take off your shoes”. He takes a print of the foot. “That’s it, go”. I return to the cell. Time goes on, filled with nothing.

I recollect the day before, just one day in captivity, and how many more will come? Again they come to me with some papers. “Surname? Walk out, hands behind your back, don’t look back”. On the way I start looking around and on one of the cell doors, almost at the exit from the hall, a board is hanging with an inscription, I manage to read it – “Lenin”. They are taking me downstairs and stop before the last door. A bald guy instructs me: “We are going out to see the area, I warn you of grave consequences of any attempts of escape, you must obey all the instructions of the warrant officer and the investigator”. With these words one handcuff is put on my wrist, the other is for the warrant officer. I look at the trademark – “Made in England”. Thank you, dear allies, for your “lend-lease” handcuffs, hygienic, modern, tightening automatically at a slightest pull. The warrant officer, a stammerer, warns me: “D-d-on’t jerk, ‘twill t-t-ighten so, your c-cock will leak…” He knew what he was talking about - several times we received these handcuffs, with a souvenir key. Leningrad streets once more... What a shame, we are riding too fast, we are reaching the wood where we spent that night. Suddenly I am not feeling well, I recollect that somewhere here I tore up and scattered my notebook. They ask me to show the place where we spent the night; naturally, I tell them that I can’t remember. The investigator says that intentionally refusing to cooperate with the investigation may worsen my situation. They find the torn pages without my help, and somebody else’s notes. We go back with a booty, they take me to my cell along the already familiar route. In the cell, on a night table, there are two bowls of cabbage soup, already cold, and a bowl of porridge, quite edible, even tasty. It’s not for nothing that sick people are advised to take a walk before a meal, better in a wood… I am trying to make the cell habitable. They have brought bedclothes, no need to follow Rakhmetov’s example. [Rakhmetov is a character from a 19-th century novel “What Is to Be Done?” by Chernyshevsky. Rakhmetov, a revolutionary, teaches himself to be used to all kinds of hardships. For example, he sleeps on nails – translator’s note]. But after some time the thin mattress starts sagging in the spaces between the iron strips, the bed is hard, every turn is painful. A good idea strikes me and I take off the cardboard notice board with the prison schedule for inmates and put it under the mattress. What a bliss! Several times I am called to the investigator’s room – he tries to find out who else was with me, who else wanted to participate, but I refuse to talk about others... “Ah, I see, you are acquainted with “Juridical Guidelines” by Yesenin-Volpin?” [“Memo for Those Who Expect to Be Interrogated”, a “samizdat” booklet on laws concerning interrogations and advice on behavior tactics – translator’s note] – the investigator says. Towards the evening they take me out for a walk. A quiet hour before sunset, they take me through a large yard to a round wooden building that resembles an entertainment park facility “vertical wall motor-cycle race”, with a lot of doors around. Inside the building looks like a cake cut into wedges, with a dark mesh on the upper part. From the door the walls go towards each other and meet at an acute angle, the cement floor is covered with human spit and I have no desire to move in it. I am standing there, looking up and listening to the footsteps in the adjacent cubicle. A lock is clattering somewhere, a door opens and somebody, to make his presence known, starts protesting loudly about the stolen minutes of the walk. It is difficult to identify the voice because of the distance. Then I hear that somebody is whistling “Hatikva” [Israel’s national anthem – translator’s note] and try to answer, but a cop appears above my head – a shining archangel threatening with a huge key (from Paradise?). “You wanna get to the isolation cell?” – he hisses. I shrug my shoulders– what do you mean? Still, I am curious to know what’s going on behind the wall... the KGB, who was not arrested, what’s happening to them, do they know what’s going on with us? The only kind of communication that is not forbidden is communicating with the neighbors, the spiders on long legs, they spin and spin their webs in the corners, as if to say “everyone will be here, there’s enough time and patience”. Iron net above, nets in the corners – looks meaningful.

Days pass away, sometimes I am taken to the investigator, I still refuse to talk about others. The case is stuck. The talks gradually acquire more general, abstract character. At the beginning, because of my naivety, I sincerely and ardently tried to prove that my actions were justifiable. I appealed to the natural right of a person who lives in a certain society to defend his or her rights while staying a good citizen. You could imagine they would be touched by these revelations. They probably figured out that they would not have much trouble with me, with such frankness it is not difficult to get what they wanted, but something unexpected happened there...

I grew up as just another kid on the block and learned very well all the laws of our simple relations. Whatever happens – keep silent, but if they press too hard, it’s not a sin to make up something, only it has to be right as rain, the most important thing is not to betray a friend – it’s mean. At the beginning of the investigation Major Pavlov asked sympathetically: “How is food? How are the conditions?” If he could know that for months I had lived without money, without my own place to live, had eaten whatever food I had been able to get hold of and had slept anywhere where I had been able to get to... I sneered inside myself - if this is all the pressure they are so far capable of, I can weather it... But then claws started to show up from the soft paws, no, just the tips of the claws. When I for a long time did not “show understanding” for the “good” attitude towards me and even refused to go to the beach with the investigator... and continued with an “incomprehensible” insistence keeping mum about other people, they announced to me their intention to send me to a psychiatric clinic for a psychiatric examination. I must confess that at that point I felt downright “nisht git” [not good, Yiddish – translator’s note]. I felt lousy and started suffering, not exactly from a psychiatric disorder, but rather from overstrained nervous system. I was in a solitary confinement cell, and at night, after a long insomnia caused by my seclusion and, partially, by the magic of the white nights, I often woke up terrified by a constantly disturbing me question: “Where is my head?” Still a little drowsy, I could not figure out in my panic where it could be and who could need it at this early time, in the first place. Later, after regaining my senses, I saw in the food opening the face of the guard in the corridor whose duty it was to see that I did not cover my head from the light of the bulb that was on all through the night. On the other hand, at daytime you could not read a printed text because the tiny source of light and air was high up under the ceiling. At this period of my life I started revealing things that had been totally insignificant before, but in my new situation they started to occupy the most important place. I revealed for myself that to become a “zek” [a slang term for inmate, derived from the widely used abbreviation “z/k for zakliuchennyi (prisoner) – translator’s note] meant to switch to different proportions and different evaluation systems. The zek’s world narrows to the size of the cell. He has nothing, so whatever exists in this world acquires vital importance, the riches of the world that humans are entitled to take the form of necessities – another intake of air in an extra minute of the walk, a spoonful of porridge – it will prolong the state of comfort before the inevitable hours of hunger come. The instep-raisers, of which I had never heard before, were kept in my shoes for that particular case, the knife could be sharpened, if you had the skill, on the concrete floor. On the other hand, the stores of vitality come free out of every cell of body and soul. I think that the first impressions after the arrest are the strongest. Later everything is buried under the dust of habits and routine. In short, the zeks’ world has the same meaning as Daoism attributes to their world – “the great in the small, the small in the great”. I don’t really know if you can bring into the zeks’ world a person who has not gone through the crisis of arrest and imprisonment, I only want to outline the atmosphere of this drama. Maybe someone can do it in a more comprehensible way. How can you defend yourself when you are sitting in a glass jar, in the enemy’s full view, when you know nothing and see nothing.

The tenth day was marked with an event – for breakfast there was sugar in a piece of newspaper twisted on both sides – a ten-day ration. There was no hope of saving it for another ten days and I licked it from time to time while walking to the rhythm of the Russian patriotic march “Farewell of Slavianka” and justly considered life a wonderful and sweet thing. My blissful state was broken by a command: “Out with your things”. As the Fox said to the Little Prince: “Nothing is perfect in this world – if there are chickens, there are also hunters, unfortunately”. So they drag me somewhere, at the least suitable moment, and we go farther than the investigator’s room and even farther than the guard’s on duty booth, to the faraway place from where they took me to for the trip to the country. To the prison loony bin, you had it coming! The descriptions of local “entertainments” from the “Chronicle” [“The Chronicle of Current Events”, a samizdat periodical – translator’s note] leap to my mind – tying up to the bed, Chlorpromazine, sulfides, personality disintegration and repentance of your wrongdoings... even though you are supposed to have acted with intent, that is, consciously. They give me my belongings and I have to sign, then they put me into a tiny compartment of a car, this is neither a Black Maria nor an ordinary car, but something very special. I hear that they put somebody else in the adjacent compartment and hear the voices of the convoy. We ride for about half an hour. By a distant engine roar I guess that this is an airport. Indeed, after a short time we are dropped near a plane; there is a cordon of people in civilian clothes; they hurry us up the stairs inside. They don’t put handcuffs on my wrists. I have already promised not do anything inappropriate during transportations in exchange for that. Somebody is sitting in front of me, surrounded by police guards, but I can’t make out who it is at that distance. They seat me at the window, there is a warrant officer near me, he looks like a village man. Where are they taking me, with such honor? It does not look like it is for an experts’ evaluation. Leningrad has a psychiatric hospital of its own, could it be that they are taking me to “Serbsky”? [A forensic psychiatry center in Moscow – translator’s note].

The plane explodes with the roar of the engines, moves closer to the airport building. The boarding starts. The passengers board the plane, look around, notice two strange groups of people, but are they guessing?

At last I recognize the flight – “Leningrad – Riga”, the captain wishes all the passengers... An air hostess comes with a tray of fruit drops candy, I take some and thank her. The warrant officer encourages me: “Don’t be a patsy, grab more, you won’t get a thing like this soon”. The plane is flying; everyone is looking out of the windows, dozing, reading. Out of curiosity, I look through my stuff and suddenly I find, among other things, a knife. How come, the glorious KGB men overlooked it! “So what, great hero, what can you do with it? If a real criminal were in your place he could scratch someone, just for fun, to chew the fat at a transit stop. You sit still, with your fruit drops candy”.

In Riga, after all the passengers get off, they take me outside and put me in a strange car of the same kind, with an impenetrable cabin. The second prisoner is probably placed nearby. After the transfer procedure I am taken to the cell. It’s a rather spacious room, with two men, we get acquainted. Both are Latvians – Dzintar and Latsis. They amiably offer me food and cigarettes, but I refuse, politely but firmly. No one is going to send me a parcel, and I have no money for the prison stall, I can’t participate in their feasts. They laugh at me and say, that with such conscientiousness it is difficult to survive in jail, they also have food from the other side of the bars for a couple of days only, the rest of the time it’s only thin soup. Indeed, I soon realized how bad it was not to have provisions from the outer world. The food was scarce and inedible. The walk, on the contrary, was luxurious – a large courtyard, you could run around and gaze at the windows and balconies of the houses surrounding the KGB building. Sometimes you could hear music and laughter, children cried, couples quarreled. Sometimes radio programs were heard. One day I learned about the passing away of the faithful son of Egyptian people Nasser. My cellmates were quiet people – one was a Latvian nationalist who had incited young people to opposition to the regime, the other was an out-and-out criminal, a “shurik” in the prison slang. The story of his imprisonments was full of heroic deeds of his bunch. All his stories were filled with comic situations, he was an expert story-teller. Maybe this was the reason for an incident from which I realized, though belatedly, that he was a “rat”, a “stool pigeon”. Several times he returned from interrogations later than usual, sometimes even just before the lights out. Although he feigned irritation at these long interrogations, he once told us in secret that sometimes, when the investigator left him alone in the room, he managed to call his buddies through the KGB switch-board. And I loved listening to these stories with great pleasure, that is, I envied his smartness, - that’s what a “shurik” could do. I even asked him, if he had another chance like that, to call the Alexandroviches and say hi from me. It’s good I didn’t tell any more... And then my ingenious cellmate played a trick on us... One day, when we had eaten up all our provisions, we were killing time doing all sorts of things. And then our “shurik” suggested using another "telephone", neglecting all the dangers of forbidden inter-cell contacts. He tapped three times on the adjacent cell wall and we heard the answering knocks. Then he took a mug, put it with the bottom to the wall and shouted in a special way, as if choking: “Who’s there?”. Then he turned the mug over and pressed his ear to it. In this way we found out that it was Yosef Mendelevich who sitting in that cell, with his cell “guardian” who actually conducted the talk. At the very start I felt great agitation when Yosef said that the investigator threatened him with capital punishment by shooting, even before the trial. My “shurik” must have enjoyed great freedom of action, because he shouted encouragingly: “Don’t fret, they won’t bump you off before the trial, and then everything is in your own hands”. It looked like Yosef was feeling real low, for he lost all caution and started talking of the things he refused to tell the investigator. I realized that in that situation I should play at being frank... I was feeling an experienced zek and thought that my play was up to the level. I was silly and overconfident. If you have started to talk, if you have agreed to the devil’s rules of the game – you have lost. This is an almost no-lose game, for those who mark the cards. But there was a chance of winning in the second round... A guard thrust his head into the cell: “Whose name starts with an “A”?” I gave my name. “Sign”. My heart is swollen, it floats up lifting the whole body to the ceiling. Through the food opening from a horn of plenty treasures are spilled into my pillowcase – sugar, cheese, sausage, vegetables, fruit, two handkerchiefs soaked in perfume. I set all of it on the table, not daring to touch it. The Latvians don’t have these sentiments, they sit at the table without hesitation when I invite them to help themselves. It means that my friends know that I am here, maybe they walk at the walls of the courtyard trying to guess when it is my time for a walk. I did not know then that together with the “hijackers” more people were put behind the bars. Ruth was sitting in one of the nearby cells, but I didn’t know it then. However, one day, when I was coming back from an interrogation, I guessed from the clothes that had come from the laundry and were lying at the cells’ doors who was kept where. The investigation took a long time, winter started, it snowed. The cops scraped off the snow carefully, because after each walk something was written on it. Gradually, out of the ball of thread of questions concerning only the plane case, a thin thread appeared that had to do with our activity before the plane... They started asking about our periodical, of Maftsir’s role, named other people. Judging from the abundance of names, something catastrophic had happened. It was clear that something comparable to the scope of the ”Doctors’ plot” [The Doctors’ plot was an anti-Semitic campaign launched by Stalin in 1952-1953. A group of predominantly Jewish doctors in Moscow were accused of plotting to assassinate Soviet leaders, and many doctors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, were dismissed from their jobs and arrested. Shortly after Stalin’s death the case was dropped for lack of evidence – translator’s note] was under way.

Investigators from all big cities of the Soviet Union were drawn in to participate in the investigation. You could think that at our investigation they were supposed to gain experience for proceedings against Jews in other cities. My investigator had long before that time changed his benevolent tone to openly threatening one. Accordingly, I also stopped to play at being a human rights activist and started speaking in my old style about this “melukha”. I don’t know if it was for this reason or for another one, but they changed the investigator. Instead of Pavlov, they sent one Barannikov. He was a round bald man, maybe nearing retirement or maybe already retired. He behaved with me in a different manner. Instead of interrogations, or, rather after some formal questions and answers, without arguing with me or even trying to change the form and meaning of the answer, he would give me the record to sign and start telling me stories from his experience as an investigator. He had been sent from Ashkhabad. His work in the last years had to do with the problem of smuggling. He told me about mountain paths where only mountain goats and snow leopards dare to walk, about cunning smugglers, their self-possession, endurance and persistence. The goods that they brought, mainly drugs, were hidden with the most respectable people, even collective farm chairmen got their share of the profits. Barannikov went into discussions of the national question. He categorically opposed the demagogic formula about proletarian art being “socialist in content and national in form”, that is, he justly believed that what was hidden under the “fig-leaf” was the very thing that nurtures all kinds of abominable doings [that “national” was actually nationalistic – translator’s note]. The name of Solzhenitsyn drove him into hysterics, Sakharov should have been long ago sent to a looney house for treatment - all these democrats got crazy on the grounds of the unjustified freedom that came after the fall of Beria [Soviet politician, head of security and secret police apparatus and deputy premier under Stalin – translator’s note]. Freedom is harmful for Russians – they will get legless with booze and make a terrible mess of everything... I asked innocently: “Like in 1917?” [The year of the Russian revolution – translator’s note] “That’s entirely different, it was against tsarist oppression”. Freedom is harmful for Russians, contraindicated for Ukrainians, a deadly danger for Jews, fatal for Europeans. “We’ll dress the whole America in jodhpurs and close all the motherfuckers’ cafes” [From Leonid Nahamkin 1962 (samizdat) poem “America” – translator’s note]. Years later, in the prison camp, when somebody appealed to the management waving “The Declaration of Human Rights”, he was put in a punitive isolation cell. “This is for Negroes”.

In October they sent our group from Riga back to Leningrad. This time my cellmate was a former medical student, but after my brief acquaintance with the criminal world I recognized a criminal in him, although with a rich natural intellect and charisma and even a certain artistic gift. I understood already that common criminals in cells are usually “rats” and behaved with him accordingly. The task of “rats” is not limited to something clearly definable, and their presence in the cell is not only a way of obtaining information, but also of creating a specific atmosphere in the cell, of suggesting “the right behavior” at the investigation and of outlining a psychological portrait, which an observant agent will deliver to those who sent him. When my cellmate was telling about life in prison camps, he tested me with a prison saying: “Push down the one who is falling”. Naturally, all reactions were recorded and these molded my relations with the KGB. In the end, I got fed up with his guardianship. Every day abounded in stories of mean things going on in the world, and this is true, but it is not true that this is the only thing that exists in this world. We argued and quarreled, our mutual dislike gradually turned into hatred, we were on the verge of starting a fight, but the cops interfered and took us apart.

The investigation was coming to an end. One day they pulled me out of the cell where I lived with another guy and took me to the investigation block. But on the way the cop stopped me near the room where the inmates were searched when entering or leaving the solitary confinement cell. In the room I saw a woman sitting. When I entered she rose to meet me... I could not believe myself – first of all, here? Now? In the second place, I could not believe that mother got so old and somehow smaller in height, as if withered away. I had never seen her so bewildered, frightened and pathetic. She had always worn her braided hair like a crown around her head; she had borne herself with a special dignity and independence, even with some arrogance. Where did my provincial mother get all this? Mother was always a beautiful woman and it was probably being conscious of that which added to her self-confidence. She had changed a lot, both outwardly and inwardly. I don’t remember much affection between us, but now mother looked into my face, stroked me on the shoulder, though we safely avoided any kisses.

- You have become a handsome man, - she said at last.

- Believe me, I did not have to get behind the bars for your compliment.

- You didn’t have to get behind the bars at all.

- It did not depend only on myself.

- Yes, yes, I know how you love them, but people live with this somehow. Don’t think that all of them are bastards - you see, in spite of the rules Yermakov allowed the visit before the trial, he is also a human, it’s just the work, his job is like this.

- I didn’t have a clue, why did they allow the visit? I asked her openly:

- How?

Mother burst into tears without saying anything. The visit was coming to an end.

- Go, go, I am not crying, not crying,- she repeated.

It looked like it was I who was crying. I was crying over her unfortunate, as I saw it, muddled up life – no husband, no son. She soon would be an old woman, living in an empty house – I had left it long ago and it looked like I wouldn’t be able to go back there soon. The visit was granted to her (I remember that I read it in the case’s materials) on the grounds of a certificate from the oncological clinic, about the prognosis of her disease; in spite of this, she later made it for a visit in the prison camp ...

<==Part 2 Part 4 ==>