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I am Zverev!

If you’ve been floating around the navy for ages, you know everybody else. Like dogs from the same area, they run over and sniff between each other’s legs: “he’s one of us”!

If I don’t need to tell you why there aren’t any ill people in the navy, only the living and the dead, well then… you must know Misha Zverev, senior deputy head of staff in the nuclear-powered division of the navy, a captain second rank. When he received his “cap-two”, he staggered along the wharf drunk as a skunk, still shouting at three in the morning, lit by the rose sunset, addressing the lower layers of the atmosphere:

“The Star! Found! Its! Hero!”

He had a young wife. Coming in from the sea, he always called her to announce:

“Kick them all out! I’m on the move!” And his wife met him, with everything ready, or as we like to say, “standing to attention”, clutching at the hem of her skirt. And he never found evidence that he was a cuckold. Everything was always in perfect order.

Misha was always getting into scrapes and funny situations. Once he got a beating with sticks on the Riga seafront because someone ran off with a motorbike down the road (and let’s face it, Misha’s mug doesn’t inspire trust.) Or he’d land in some other such mess.

He loved telling these stories to his friends. He would smile, looking dreamily into the distance and then recount them unhurriedly, with pauses for laughter and waiting for the slow-pokes to catch up. Usually, he’d start after lunch when everyone was already picking at their nearly-empty plates.

The tale would begin with an oh-so romantic glance above their heads, at which point the assembled company would quieten down and, sighing, Misha would begin with a sad smile:

“I was born in Central Russia… at one of the railway junctures… I mean, fuck it … well, anyway… I was on leave so one day I decided to go to the banya [a Russian sauna.]…”

In order to limit the quantity of “fucks” to the smallest requisite level, I’m going to tell you the story myself. Before the banya episode, he’d grown a week’s stubble up to his very eyes, put a quilted jacket over his naked body, a cap, denim pants, our navy sandals with holes exposing his toes; he put a venik [a bunch of leaves from a birch tree, used to lash oneself in the banya] under his arm and set off, without hurrying in the slightest.

And it’s mid-summer time: the birds are chirping; fresh air, flowers, he’s in a good mood, free-do-om!

It was noticed a long time ago that the further you are from the navy, the better your mood, and as you get nearer to the navy, your mood gets fouler and fouler, and when you’re on board one of the navy’s ships – then it’s simply rotten. Far from the navy, you breathe freely, you joke, you laugh merrily, you talk, you get up to any number of silly things, like the rest of the civilian population.

You need to pass by a railway juncture to get to the banya. As it happened, a special military train had stopped there. A guard stood by the first carriage. Well now, which honest drill officer would quietly pass by a private without saying a goddamn thing? It would be almost impossible, I mean just like a dog couldn’t miss a lamppost.

Misha couldn’t walk past. Overcome with solidarity, he stopped and then went over.

“Where are you coming from?”

The guard glanced sideways at him and growled, gloomily:

“We’ve come from… wherever we need to have come from.”

“And where are you going?”

“We’re going… wherever we need to go.”

“And what are you carrying?”

“We’re carrying… things which need carrying…”

“Fine, then, sonny, carry on serving and guarding. The motherland has entrusted you, so keep up the good work! I’m off.”

“Where are you off to, uncle,” the guard dropped his rifle from his shoulder and cocked the barrel, “don’t move or I’ll shoot…”

The captain, head of the special train, lifted his head from the table with difficulty. His face was blue-ish (“ich bin ill”).

In front of him stood Misha Zverev, a pair of happy eyes looked out at the captain through his thick stubble.

“Hello, ha ha…”

“Hello…”

“See, they’ve taken me… ha ha…” Misha chortled inappropriately.

“He was interested,” the guard came forward, “in where we’re going, in what we’re carrying.”

“Well done, Petrov!” the captain managed through his coughing. “Have you got any identification?”

“What do you mean, identification, my dear boy?” said Misha. “I was going to the banya…”

“Well, well, well… We’re not carrying a special department with us. So we’ll hand you over at the main station.”

“Comrade captain, I’m captain of the second rank, Zverev, senior deputy head of staff, I can bring you identification if necessary!”

“It’s not necessary,” said the captain, whose glance had stuck in Misha’s stubble. “Sidorov!”

Sidorov appeared. He was three heads taller than anything you could possibly imagine.

“Right, Sidorov, lock up comrade… h-hm… senior deputy head of staff… that one there, the furthest staff carriage. Don’t let him out to piss, he can do everything in there. Well, and so forth…”

Sidorov picked up the comrade (this senior deputy head of staff) under his arm and carried him to the far carriage, threw him in a heap on the floor and – with the words: “Gotcha, Misha” – he locked the door.

Misha just had time to think: “Horses have travelled in this train,” when the train set off. As he was jolted forward, he quickly scuttled along on all fours, stopped, picked up his venik and laughed.

“Well, there you are,” he said, “off we go… One carriage is as good as another.” The echoing of clanging wheels disposes a person to reflection and so Misha settled down, onto the straw, to reflect.

They soon stopped. They’d reached a station. Zverev jumped up and was flustered. They would be coming for him any minute now. “Which station is this?” he kept on wondering and worrying. “I can’t see a thing. God only knows! Where are they?” Nobody was coming to get him.

“Hey!” He tried to poke his head out of the window criss- crossed with barbed wire. “Tell the commander of the special train. I’m Zverev! I’m the senior deputy head of staff!” he addressed everyone he saw, but he just frightened everyone, one after another, with his unexpected phy siog nomy. One old woman was so deeply moved, from the suddenness of it, that she just said, “Oh my gawd!” – weakened and collapsed on something that gave a slurping sound.

Misha burst out laughing and he laughed at her like mad until the carriage began to move again. They’d clearly forgot about him. The stations flashed by, and at each one he looked out for passers-by to shout at: “I’m Zverev! Tell them! I’m Zverev!”

Three days later, in Yaroslavl, they remembered about him (“Don’t we have that… what’s his name… that head of something guy?”) and handed him over to the KGB. In three days, he had turned into a wild, hairy, dishevelled creature, with wide eyes and a sharp Adam’s apple. He smelt so bad that flies buzzed around him, flustered.

“Well?” the KGB asked him.

“I’m Zverev!” he declared with the face of your average convict. “I’m the senior deputy head of staff!” he added, not without some pride, and winked. He didn’t mean to wink, it just happened. His mug could have been from any galley. “Have you got identification?”

“Wh-at identi-fic-ation?” Misha choked for the umpteenth time. I was going to the banya! Look!” And by way of proof, he stuck his venik under their noses – the same venik he’d previously used to sweep the carriage.

“And what other evidence do you have?”

“What?”

“Well, to prove that you’re Zverev.”

Misha looked around himself and couldn’t find anything. But then he remembered. Yes, he remembered alright! He had an uncle in Yaroslavl! Oo-oo! A dear uncle! They hadn’t seen each other for twenty years!

“I have an uncle!” he exclaimed. “Oo-oo! Dear uncle! We haven’t seen each other for twenty years! My dear uncle! Fuck…!”

It was already night when they set off to fetch his uncle.

“Are you so-and-so?”

“I’m … so-and-so…”

“Get dressed!”

And his uncle recalled a certain heroic epoch when you had to explain who you were in the middle of the night.

They brought his dear uncle over complete with his sandals.

When he came into the room, a strange creature rushed towards him from out of a corner, with its tenacious arms thrown open.

“Uncle! Dear uncle!” it squealed unpleasantly, breath- ing through a rotting gullet, and scraping him with its prickly cheek.

“I’m not your uncle! Criminal!” The uncle broke free, slapping the creature on its hands.

Uncle was calmed down, and with the aid of the table lamp, he finally recognised his nephew and shed tears.

“It’s just the nature of our job,” they said to him, by way of apology, “God only knows, I mean, what if suddenly…”

“Yes! Yes!” repeated the overjoyed uncle. “God only knows!” And he shook the KGBs’ hands, then his nephew’s hands, even his own hands. They drove him home – he was overjoyed the whole way back.

“And you, comrade Zverev, if you want to, you can go straight to the train station. It’s not far to walk. We’ll let them know you’re coming.”

He got to the station at four in the morning. It was grey and damp and the ticket office was shut. Misha knocked and some old lady opened up.

“I’m Zverev!” He poked his mug through the elevated ticket window. “I need a ticket. They called you earlier.” “Give me the money.”

“What money? I’ve got no money whatsoever! What’s the problem, lady?” He started scratching the counter with his stubbly chin, “don’t you have the slightest ability to understand people?”

The “lady” shut the window of the ticket office.

His nerves, shaken up by the carriage, the KGB and his uncle, didn’t withstand this.

“I’m Zverev!” He began to thrash at the window. “I’ve come from the KGB! They called you! From the KGB! From the K! G! B!” he declaimed.

The ticket lady picked up the phone:

“There’s trouble ‘ere!”

Misha kept thrashing, over and over.

“I’m Zverev! Open up! Hey!”

The policeman had already been standing behind him for five minutes. He waited until Misha grew tired, then he politely tapped him on the shoulder. Misha turned around. “Are you Zverev?”

“Y-yes…” Misha was very moved because someone at last had recognised him. He burst out crying and let himself be handcuffed. In the car, he fell onto the policeman’s shoulder and, snotting on him, confirmed that he was Zverev, he was going to the banya, he had been at the KGB…

“We know, we know,” said the wise policemen.

“And I’m also the senior deputy head of staff!” Misha stopped during one sob, shifted away and stared, hungrily searching for any objections.

“We see that, we see that,” the policemen replied. The wise policemen handed him over to less wise policemen, and the latter locked him up till Monday. Misha started thrashing again.

“I’m Zverev! I’m Zverev! Tell the KGB!”

“And why not the UN? Kofi Annan, he might also find it fascinating,” said the less wise policemen and shrugged their shoulders. “Look, it’s just not on! You’re not letting us work.

Shall we knock him around a bit, or what? Just a bit…” And they knocked him around…

In the end, on Monday, everyone became clear about everything! (I mean, fuck!) The KGB and the police took him to the station, bought him a ticket, put him on the train and he set off home.

When he got off the train, even the geese staggered to get away from him. Misha made his way home through the back-gardens. As he got nearer, he heard music. There was a celebration going on in his house. Misha squatted down in the bushes. Life had taught him to be careful.

Soon, his childhood friend Vasya tumbled out onto the porch. He tumbled out, stood up with a groan and set off into the bushes, mumbling to himself and undoing his belt on the way. He stopped by the bushes, swayed, grabbed himself somewhere in the middle and, just then, a long thin fountain shot out of him.

When his fountain had squirted most of its reserves, a strange creation suddenly arose from the bushes, in his direction.

“What’s going on here? …Huh? Vasya?” asked the creation, which had Misha’s voice.

“I should have got utterly, completely legless!” said Vasya. “To have a vision like that…” and sticking his not-entirely-finished fountain into his trousers, he turned back to the house.

“Stop!” Misha overtook him with one step and Vasya curled up into a ball, as he was being dragged off.

It turned out that Misha’s whole village had been looking for him with boat-hooks in the lake for ten days, and then decided: “that’s enough!” and organized a funeral repas for him.

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