Kuźma Čorny

Overnight In The Village Of Siniehi

When the march is a long one and a hard one, there's little time for resting. And we slept little - two hours or so at a time, and that by fits and starts.

In Siniehi, a tiny village, we found traces of the military units which had passed through before us: telephone cable was lying with which the children were playing, and cartridges were scattered about the yard, in the straw lying near the barn of the last house. We tried loading our guns with them, but they didn't fit, so we threw them away.

The thatched roof-tops of Siniehi's eight huts flaunted to all the world their straggling strands of straw rustling softly in the wind.

We needed sleep badly.

In the house there was alarm and anxiety, because the war had scared its inhabitants - four children and a woman, the mother and mistress of the house - a beautiful peasant woman.

We made beds for ourselves on some big, low chests in the cold passageway. Along with me was Comrade Skabakoŭ, our troop commander, a merry, red-headed fellow from somewhere off the fishing coasts of the Olonetz Lakes. We rearranged the straw that had already been used by the previous military overnight lodgers, placed our kit-bags beneath our heads with all our possessions - the scanty possessions of a soldier - and a heavy drowsiness settled on our eyelids.

The door leading into the warmly-heated hut was ajar. The children argued long but quietly over some "pillow with red applique", and finally complete silence fell upon the household.

 

* * *

 

Accustomed to disturbing mornings, I raised my head with a start, trying hard to throw off the morning sleepiness weighing on me like a stone.

The dawn's early rays hardly penetrated through the window on the sunny side.

"Just another five minutes in bed, then I'll wake Skabakoŭ," I said to myself, still fighting the heavy lassitude. I clasped the back of my head in my hands, squeezing hard behind the ears. Inside my skull a hammer was beating, and my whole head ached.

I heard talking inside the hut.

"Sonny," the woman was saying, "Get up!"

Silence.

"Get up, sonny!"

"No, mamma."

"Come on, sonny boy, get up. Who else can? You are the biggest one now."

"Let me sleep a little longer."

"You can sleep in the daytime. But now - who else is there to waken?"

The little boy began to cry. He cried on and on, in a sleepy voice, and evidently slept again. The woman remained silent.

I got up and awakened Skabakoŭ.

I went into the hut.

The woman was tearing up an old shirt, ragged and ful of holes, into strips.

"Good morning," I said.

"Good morning," she replied.

"Thank you for letting us stay the night. We're leaving already."

"So soon!"

I felt the need of saying something more, but what? I added: "Let the young lad sleep a little longer. He has to grow up yet." A sense of guilt came over me, as if I were to blame for things.

"True! But what shall I do? How shall I manage things alone, all by myself? The master, my husband, is not at home. He is away at the war. I must start harvesting the oats today, if only a little, but I must begin; I must get a horse somewhere to cart the rye home; I'll thresh it, even if I have to use the battledore to do it with; and if it dries on the oven for the day, I'll grind the grain in the evening, so as to mix the dough for baking bread the following morning."

"But haven't you got a horse?"

"The Poles drove our horse off to a transport unit the day before yesterday, together with our boy."

"What boy?"

"My son."

"A grown-up one?"

"A little one. That's the trouble - I wouldn't worry so if he were a big one. To top it all, I can't wake this little one to drive the cow to pasture. Nor have I anything to give him to eat. Early yesterday morning I dug up a few potatoes, they are so small yet, but towards evening I gave the potatoes to some soldiers - they march by barefoot, hungry, unkempt, in rags. My old man, I think, like them too, is perhaps somewhere..."

She went over to the bed.

"Come on, sonny, get up! I've made some new footcloths out of an old nightie, for you to have something soft to wrap round your feet. You'll put on Michaś' łapci;* they are somewhat large for you, so there'll be plenty of room for your sore foot."

* Łapci [laptsy] - bast sandals (traslator's note').

She leaned over the bed.

"It'll break soon."

"What will?"

"The abcess. The other day he hit his foot against a tree stump, and now there's an abcess gathering."

I bent over the bed. The boy was still sleeping. On one side on his left foot, near the toes, there was a whitish swelling smeared with mud.

I went back into the passageway. In my bag I found nothing but two dried roach. I got them out - all the food I had, the ration of a soldier - and put them on a bench inside the hut.

Then Comrade Skabakoŭ and I left the hut, never to see it again.

Fifteen minutes later we left Siniehi.

While waiting for the order to march, I saw the lad: limping, walking on his heels, driving the cow to pasture. Near the house stood his mother, sedate and steady, a woman commanding respect, a great woman.

 

* * *

 

We are on the march again.

The march will be long and hard - and when the march is a long one and a hard one, there's little time for resting.

 

1927




Source: Colours Of The Native Country. Minsk, Byelarus Publishers, 1972.
Translation: Mary Mintz

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