The Russian Officer
Copyright © by Hideo Asano
One evening, Erek was sitting with Natasha on her bed. He was digging at the photo albums, trying to know more of her and her family. She eagerly explained each of the photos.
The old photos were mostly in black and white. He was thrilled looking at the snapshots of Natasha’s childhood. She looked strong and stubborn. Her younger sister, Tanya, looked the opposite. What was in her mind as a little girl?
Unlike her father, Sasha Dobush, who looked in good shape, her mother was altogether different. The photos showed her slim and attractive when young, but her youthful beauty had been replaced with enormous heavy bulk.
Sasha was a handsome man with sharp deep-set dark blue eyes. He had been an army officer stationed in Afghanistan during the conflict between rebels and the Soviet Union.
“My father had a monkey in Afghanistan and fed him vodka. His pet became an alcoholic. So he had to feed him two bottles of vodka everyday.”
“I wish someone could offer me beer everyday,” joked Erek.
Erek came to a group of photographs. Those photos were too strong to forget. He felt sad, realizing that Natasha’s family had been through a tragedy. In a large photo, a boy lay with his hands folded crosswise in the impossibly small open casket. Inside, the coffin was adorned with flowers, vivid against the whiteness of the cushion. His beautiful eyes were closed as if he was sleeping peacefully, in his clean, pressed school uniform. The boy had clear blue eyes with dark gray pupils. His enormous eyes were much larger than those of Natasha.
School friends were holding bouquets mourning their lost friend, and adults stood motionlessly behind them. They were all standing closely and mournfully around the dead boy. The boy’s heartbroken parents were among the mourners, standing closely by their dead son.
Natasha was three years younger than her brother, Roma, who had died when he was only eight years old. Roma had been electrocuted near his apartment while playing with electric wires. Erek was not surprised upon hearing the cause of the boy’s death, since he saw many manholes dangerously open in the roads in this Russian town.
In the pictures, Natasha’s father wore military uniform without a tie and held a handkerchief in his hand. He looked very sad and tired. Another army officer in full dress was gently holding his arm. The officer In his full dress was taller than his comrade and both were looking downwards at the tragic boy. Sasha had flown into Khabarabsk through Tajikistan to attend the funeral of his son.
Natasha told Erek how she displayed her dignity at the funeral – despite being a little girl; she had not shed a tear. Her little hand held by her mother.
“You’re a gangster,” teased Erek.
“But, after the funeral, I cried and cried,” Natasha said.
Ten days later, after the funeral, Sasha returned to Afghanistan to resume his duties. A year later, he came home from Afghanistan. The officer and his wife tried hard to have another Roma. Tanya was born instead.
“My father doesn’t want to talk about the war,” said Natasha.
“Could vodka make him talk?”
“When my father drinks, he only talks about my brother.”
Outside it was very dark and quiet. They drained their cups of vodka. To Erek, she seemed the prettiest girl on earth. He wondered if he was worthy of her love.
[March 1, 2004. Big Issue. London.]