Duty or Shame.....
|The raw meat goes down easy, but in a few seconds his stomach revolts. When the meat starts to gush back up Ivan's throat it is as if his very soul is trying to escape. As his cupped hands start to overflow with vomit he drinks it right back down; waste not, want not.
The bright sun of the next few days does nothing to ease the wretchedness. The food of two days ago is not even a memory. Their blank eyes seem like veils concealing the madness. The path ends at the top of a hill. The walking dead have found their salvation. Before them is a snow-covered meadow gently sloping downward about two hundred yards to a main road where five green army trucks wait.
We must have reached the Polish border. God has blessed us for now we are saved Ivan thinks as he and his wife struggle to be first. The desperate mob with its last bit of life works their way toward the trucks in the knee-deep snow. Even the ones blinded by starvation seem to sense the hope and stagger past in the direction of all the commotion.
As the most pitiful of all the human race make their way toward the waiting trucks Ivan gets a bad feeling. Something is wrong Ivan thinks as he grabs his wife's arm and makes her stop.
His wife falls in the snow when she tries to break free from his grasp so she can continue the last few yards to salvation. Ivan falls to his knees and wraps his arms tightly around her so she cannot get any closer to the trucks. Am I letting our only chance get away? Is this one instance of madness? In their situation the smallest mistake is a death sentence Ivan thinks as he watches what is left of his friends stagger pass.
It has been an extremely cold winter in Moscow this year. Things have not gotten any better and in some cases things are worse since the death of the Tzar and his family. Ida is saddened when she thinks of the Tzar's children murdered by the Peoples Army. Those beautiful little girls must have been so frightened, she thinks as she stirs a pot of potato soup. Today they have a small piece of meat to add to the soup. In this new Workers Paradise this borders on what you could call a feast.
The old man sits in his chair. The smell of the soup fills the small apartment that they soon will have to share with two other families. The hint of meat in the pot sends his mind back to the good times. He fills with pride as visions of himself astride his horse, a Sergeant in the Royal Mounted Saint Petersburg Brigades fill his mind. Now with the new order he is just a stable hand, forced to work for what not so long ago were just a bunch of murderous thugs. These new rulers of the Mother Land are far more viscous than anything the Tzar would have done to his people. They hide their crimes under the lie that all the people will have an equal share.
He knows that the power is in the hands of a few. Power makes them commit acts that to a decent man can only be thought of as madness. He thinks about his youngest son who is in the Ukraine fighting the farmers that do not want to give up their land. He can understand why the Ukranians do not want to give up what they have worked for. The Ukranians are like the Poles, hard headed.
For the ones who wait for the soldier who has gone off to fight, the worry can be more terrorizing than battle. The rattle of the wooden bowls on the table makes the old man's mouth water. I am just like Pavlov's dog he thinks as he starts to get up from his chair to join his wife at the table.
The first taste of the soup is always uncomfortable. The taste buds are shocked after waiting in anticipation for most of the day. Right before the soup can sooth the old man's mind a knock on the door stops the world. They look across the table deep into each other's eyes. A knock on the door in this new Peoples Worker's Paradise is never ever good news, the old man thinks as he gets up slowly from the table.
The old man's guts twist when he opens the door and sees the two men in their black coats and hats staring at him with indifference in their eyes. As one of the men hands him an envelope the other says in a passionless tone, "ALL SACRIFICES FOR THE PEOPLES REPUBLIC ARE GLORIOUS".
The two men turn and walk away into the night, leaving the old man standing in his door way holding the letter that he knows is from death's messengers. The old man walks back to the table and struggles to open the envelope that he holds in his trembling fingers. His wife stands behind his chair and looks over his shoulder. She cannot read, but she can recognize her youngest son's name and a sickness fills her mind.
The letter starts out with the typical propaganda. When he gets to the part that he will never see or feel the touch of his youngest son again, his tears break the rule that a man should never cry. His wife looks at her husband; she does not have to be told what the letter says. He gets up from the table and goes back to his chair. He cannot comfort the old woman. Her hysterical cries from the pain of a broken heart unnerve and confuse him.
The old soldier wants to go and kill Ukrainians for now it is personal. The pain in his joints tells him that time will not offer him the sweet taste of revenge. All that is left for him and his wife is to accept, what any parent who has lost a child knows, a pain that will never end.
The knock on the door at sunrise wakes the old man with a jolt. He had fallen asleep in the chair and he now watches as his wife makes her way to the door. The burst of sunlight as she opens the door plays tricks with the old woman's eyes. The young soldier standing there, could it be Adam? The unfamiliar voice accomplishes nothing but to bring back all the pain.
" Is this where the Koffski lives?" The soldier asks again.
"Yes, I am Koffski", the old woman answers as she looks back at her husband.
The old man slowly gets up; his bones making more noises than even the old chair. Getting closer he sees bandages wrapped around the boy's head; he's been wounded. A feeling only soldiers can share a bonding as they look each other in the eye.
"I am Ludic a friend of your son Adam. We have not been allowed to write home. Things, bad things are moving fast in the Ukraine and Adam asked that I make sure that you get this letter. He saved my life, you can be proud and I know that he will make it home," Ludic says as he pulls the letter from his coat.
The old woman cries as the old man tells the boy that Adam has been killed. The pain in Ludic's face showed the old man that the boy and his son had a true friendship. He asked the boy to come in and have something to eat, but the boy had a girl that he just had to see and politely declined.
Watching the boy walk away is sad to them both. He is on his way to places that their son will never know; yet in their hearts they wish him well. They look into each other's eyes before they turn around and head for the table. Again they look at one another as he opens the envelope.
Dearest Mother & Father,
They do not let us write home. We do things here that the world should never know. I hope through my friend that this letter find its way to you.
Mother, what you have done for me I cannot put into words, but in your loving me I have come to understand the wealth of human nature. The world to a small boy can be confusing and sometimes a very frightening place. There was one place where I could find the understanding about things I did not know. That place was within your warm embrace.
Father, Sir, to you I say I love you. What a small boy feels when his father is a warrior. The pride that he gets from the other children that understand that he is a warrior's son. In the questions of manhood when I faced a choice you always counseled me to take the toughest way. That lesson lasted long; it took me years to understand.
I know that this will cause you unbearable pain but I have to make you understand. Father I am a soldier, orders are not to be questioned they are to be carried out. Some things are just so wrong that even loyalty and love for the Motherland cannot permit.
We were woken up early one morning; the weather was warmer than it had been all month. They fed us a breakfast finer then we had ever had before. We got on to trucks and drove two hours and stopped at the bottom of a sloping meadow. Our officer told us that the enemy of the Motherland would be coming out of the tree line at the top of the hill. All must be killed; no one can be allowed to escape. These people are capable of bringing down all the good that we have achieved. The Motherland and all the people that deserve a fair share are counting on us to do our duty. When the officer gives the order we are to roll up the tarps and open fire. The officer told us again; all must die. We sat there for another twenty minutes all of us were worried we must be about to face a powerful group. We could not understand why we had to stay in the trucks. When the battle started we would be sitting ducks all tightly group within those trucks, it just did not make sense.
The order was given we pulled up the tarps and opened fire. After a few seconds the smoke cleared and the ghostly shapes came clear. I was shooting women, children, and men. They were like walking cadavers; they did not even want to live. They just kept coming as if having bullets ripping through them was the best choice they had. The Officer told us to get out of the trucks to make sure that the already dead died. Walking through the dead and dying you did not know who was luckier. They looked like bones, their faces stretched tight; the ones still alive popped eyes were wild with madness. While my comrades were putting them out of their misery I saw shapes moving in the tree line and went to investigate. When I told them to halt the man turned around and shielded a pregnant woman. The look in his eyes was a hate like I had never seen before. I figured he had something to live for, not like his friends that littered the clearing. I turned my back and just walked away.
That night they gave us vodka, all that we could drink. When I passed out it did not take long for the dreams. That man and his slaughtered friends were digging a pit and the bottom was on fire. They grabbed me and threw me in the pit; on the way to the fire I woke up screaming. Every time I fell asleep they would return. Sometimes it was only the women and children that bite and clawed me as they shoved me toward the pit. All I had to do was stop sleeping. It has been five days and now they have come back even when I am awake. They are all around me. Some of the children scream stories at me of dreams that they will never know.
For what I have done there is no forgiveness. My only hope is God will show me the same mercy that I gave to that man and woman. I cannot wait a long life not knowing what is to be my fate. My victims demand revenge; I owe them at least that.
When and if you receive this letter please do not feel sad for I will be free of my tormented life. Mother, Father I love you and please pray for my soul.
The old man does not look at his wife as he gets up from the table and goes back to his old chair. The old woman picks up the letter and stares at the words she cannot read.