Escape from the Soviets - T. Tchernavin


That night there was nothing to wait for, no need to listen to anything. I put the child to bed and sat down beside him. His father was in prison; we were alone in the world. To-morrow everyone would shun us like the plague. No help could come to us from anywhere. All that was left me in life was that corner by the child's bed, in the light circle of the lamp beside it, and somewhere, in incredible distance, the OGPU prison, his father and . . . perhaps, death.

The boy could not go to sleep; as soon as he dozed off he woke again with a pitiful cry, looked at me with frightened eyes, touched me with his little hands to make sure that I was still there and had not disappeared into the unknown like his father.

I sat without any thoughts, as during those two hours when my husband and I were looking at each other. His pale, weary face was before me—that was all.

Tired out, my son dropped asleep at last, his face looking sad and thin. I had to go and clear up the study after the search. I went to the door and stopped ... It was so difficult to go into the room that would never see him again.

I opened the door. The room smelt of the cigarettes that the OGPU agent had been smoking.

Never, never again could I get rid of the visible or invisible presence of the OGPU! I did not know how long it would be before I, too, would be arrested it was usual to imprison whole families. All Soviet citizens were in a noose which the OGPU tightened as they thought fit.

Burning anger filled my heart when I sat down to the writing-table, littered with papers, books and photographs, chucked on to it by the OGPU agent.

What did they care about ideas, about culture! They only needed it for newspapers and magazines published for the benefit of credulous foreigners. There they wrote about the bright new life being created in the U.S.S.R., about the wonderful progress of science upon which Socialism was being built. And here? How many of our professors and academicians had been spared? And those who were not imprisoned yet, in what conditions had they to work?

I got up to return to my room, but in the dark stumbled against the bed. The shirt which my husband had taken off before going lay on it. Not thinking what I was doing, I took it, pressed it to my face, and burst into sobs. Despair mastered me at last.

I do not know how long I lay there crying the shirt was wet with my tears. Suddenly a far-off image dating back to my childhood rose in my weary brain.

Chloe in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Tom is sold and Chloe is sobbing over his shirt, pressing it to her broad, black face. As a child I wept over poor Tom, as millions of other readers had wept before me, and now I was myself like Chloe. We had become slaves in "the freest country in the world". Tom was sold, and all I could hope for was that my husband should be "sold" too and not shot. Perhaps, since he was a highly-qualified expert, the OGPU would sell him to some other institution so as to receive 90 per cent of his earnings; then he would live. He would live like a slave. Without a home, without freedom or initiative, he would work while there was any strength left in him—and that would be a blessing, if, indeed, life was a blessing at all.