Escape from the Soviets - T. Tchernavin

Soft Stone

At last we came upon a hollow surrounded by enormous blocks of bare granite. There was a tiny lake at the bottom. The water in it looked black and still, and next to it lay a piece of granite flat as a table.

"I can no more," I cried. I felt so weak that I could not stand. I threw myself on the granite, covering my head with the mackintosh through which the mosquitoes could not sting.

I lost consciousness instantly and dreamt that I had sunk into the still, dark water of the lake.

I was awakened by a whisper close by. The father and the son were getting tea ready. There was hot water in the kettle, a mug did the duty of a teapot, lumps of bacon were placed on the rusks. Sugar could not be put out, because mosquitoes would settle on it immediately, though there were much fewer of them here than down in the marsh. This was the second time in the four days that we had tea. It tasted incredibly good, and revived us wonderfully.

The sun stood high, the sky was clear and blue. We felt as safe in our hollow as in an impregnable fortress. Now that we were out of the dangerous valley it seemed impossible for our pursuers to detect us. We had escaped. It was a delightful moment of rest.

"Mother, your stone must be very soft?" the boy teased me.

"Lovely and soft. I don't think I ever slept so soundly."

We talked in whispers about the Alps, the Andes, the Himalayas, about anything that came into our heads. The world was opening before us, and a free and happy life seemed within our reach.

We were looking for the last time at the black ridges of mountains going East, towards the sea which we had left behind. Heavy storm clouds lay over it, while here the sun was shining brightly. We counted the peaks that we had passed, proud that there were so many of them, but the boy seemed rather uneasy: he understood only now how far we had gone from all the places he knew.

"Look at U.S.S.R. It may be for the last time!"

He looked, as though not quite believing that over there was his native land, which he was leaving for ever; or perhaps he did believe it, and was sad. His home, his comrades, all that he knew and loved was there. If it had not been for the terrible and mysterious prison where both his father and mother had disappeared in turn, he would have been leaving behind a happy childhood, with all its dreams and hopes,

My heart was aching too and it was bitter to me to say good-bye to my unhappy country. I loved Russia, sincerely and devotedly, loved her through all the misery, fear and bewilderment to which she had been reduced. I had worked for my people without sparing myself, but we had been deprived of all that makes life worth living—freedom and the work we loved. There was no other way for us.

We had now to leave behind the last Russian river and go across unknown hills. Should we come alive out of this labyrinth of mountain ridges, without a map or a compass? Should we find our way to Finland? Or were we still on this side of the frontier and might be shot at any moment? Danger was ahead and all round us, and yet I knew that if by some magic I had been brought home once more, I should have made the same choice over again.