Escape from the Soviets - T. Tchernavin

Another Cross-Examination

"So here you are! Good day, sit down! How are you?"

"Very well, thank you."

"Very well? You are laughing? And will you laugh much longer?"

"Till you do away with me." I answered, adopting his tone.

"You won't have long to wait, not long," the amiable official thundered again. "Seven copecks is not much of an expense, and as to yourself. . . such a worker as you is not much of a loss, either."

On the whole, however, the conversation—one could hardly call it a cross-examination—was "on a cheerful note".

This time we were in a small and comparatively clean room. Through the window I could see the sky, blue in the evening light. Branches still bare but pliant with the warmth of spring, rustled against the windowpanes. Behind the window, spring was coming, there were people who could look freely at the boundless sky, and here . . . what more would one have to go through before being shot? Death did not frighten me, it was too disgusting to live like that. But the preliminaries were revolting. Where would they drag me? To what nasty things should I have to listen? They would put a sack over my head and shoot me from behind. Or would there be no sack? One would not even see the sky before dying.

"Are you dreaming? And what are you going to tell me about your dear husband?"

"What do you wish to know?"

"What I wish to know! Ha-ha-ha! Everything! Start away, I like to hear stories."

He lit a cigarette and lolled back in his armchair. He was silent and I was silent too. I looked at the window—that was pleasant, anyway. "Well?"


"Move on! I haven't called you here to smoke cigarettes with you."

He alone was smoking, of course. "Question me."

"I am not going to, you must speak for yourself. What are you afraid of, whom are you trying to screen? Nice sort of husband you have, I must say—sent you to prison. What will you do about your child? Send him to an institution? You were busy with books and science, conclusions and deductions, and here he was going about restaurants with pretty girls! What do you say to that?" He paused, watching the effect.

There was none. I was wondering what new trick he would try on me this time. "Do you know who Lidochka is?"

"My former domestic help."

"Ha, ha! That's a funny coincidence! No, no, she is not a domestic help at all, but a very pretty girl. Though perhaps your maid too was pretty, eh? So you don't know who she is?"


"That's a pity. That husband of yours knows her very well."

"That's his affair."

"How do you mean, his affair? He squanders your money with a pretty lady and you don't care?"

"Whether he squandered it or not, it was his money. I had my own earnings and spent my money as I liked."

"Oh, stop that intellectual nonsense! Why do you give yourself airs? Your husband drank and squandered money on women, and you? Ha-ha-ha! Spent your time reading books, eh? You'd have done better looking after your husband—you wouldn't have been here then. Well, what do you say, then?"

He said much more on the subject trying on me one of the most vulgar catches that seldom succeeds with even the worst type of women, because the motive behind it is too obvious. I was quite interested to discover one more of his tricks, especially meant for women. Judging by detective novels which I came across in prison it was an old-fashioned trick, but I doubt if in the old days it was applied to cultured people. Now OGPU officials tried it on virtuous elderly ladies who had got over their romantic feelings a good twenty years before and listened with surprise to coarse insinuations made by the representatives of political power in the State.

But even if this trick did not attain its primary object of rousing jealousy and making a woman speak against her husband, it was one more way of insulting her dignity. It was not for nothing that the noseless face of the former prostitute in the red kerchief gave me such a shock. There was something nasty in the whole atmosphere of the prison, as there is bound to be wherever man is given unlimited power over his fellow creatures.

At every fresh interview the examining officer did his best to make me sink lower and lower: to frighten and humiliate me so that I should lose all sense of personal dignity and become a spiritless, miserable wreck, ready to do anything if only I were allowed to live.