Malenkigrad (5)

 

- Are you all through, comrade?

 

Morrison looked up, sharply. He had decided “comrade” was an archaism, hadn’t he?

 

A woman was standing, looking at him with one balled fist on her hip in a negligent manner. She was a reasonably plump woman in a white uniform, slightly stained. Her hair was reddish-brown, as were her eyebrows which arched disdainfully.

 

- Who are you? asked Morrison, frowning.

 

- My name? Valeri Paleron. My function? Hard-working serving-woman, but Soviet citizen and member of the party. I brought you this food. Didn’t you notice me? Am I beneath your notice, perhaps?

 

Morrison cleared his throat:

 

- I’m sorry, Miss. I have other things on my mind. – But you had better leave the food. Someone else is supposed to be coming here, I think.

 

- Ah! And the Tsarina? She will be back, too, I suppose?

 

- The Tsarina?

 

- You don’t think we have tsarinas any longer in the Soviet Union? Think again, comrade. This Boranova, the granddaughter of peasants and a long line of peasants, I’m sure, considers herself quite a lady.  – She made a sound with her lips like a long “psh-sh-sh”, redolent with contempt and a touch of herring.

 

Morrison shrugged:

- I do not know her very well.

 

- You are American, aren’t you?

 

Morrison said, sharply:

- Why do you say that?

 

- Because of the way you speak Russian. With that accent, what would you be? The son of Tsar Nicholas the Tyrant?

 

- What’s wrong with the way I speak Russian?

 

- It clashes as though you learned it at school. You can hear an American a kilometre away as soon as he says, “A glass of vodka, please”. He is not as bad as an Englishman, of course. Him you can hear two kilometres away.

 

- Well, then, I’m American.

 

- And you’ll be going home some day?

 

- I certainly hope so.

 

The serving-woman nodded her head quietly, pulled out a rag and wiped the table thoughtfully:

- I would like to visit the United States some day.

 

Morrison nodded:

- Why not?

 

- I need a passport.

 

- Of course.

 

- And how does a simple, loyal serving-woman get one?

 

- I suppose you must apply for one.

 

- Apply? If I go to a functionary and I say, “I, Valery Paderon, wish to visit the United States”, he will say “Why?”

 

- And why do you want to go?

 

- To see the country. The people. The wealth. I am curious how they live. – That would not be reason enough.

 

- Say something else, - said Morrison. Say you want to write a book about the United States as a lesson to Soviet youth.

 

- Do you know how many books …

She stiffened, and began to wipe the table again, suddenly absorbed in her work.

 

Morrison looked up. Boranova was standing there, her eyes hard and angry. She uttered a harsh monosyllable that Morrison didn’t recognise but that he could have sworn was an epithet and not a very polite one, either.

 

The serving-woman flushed dully. Boranova made a small gesture with her hand and the woman turned and left.

 

Morrison noticed that a man stood behind Boranova; short, thick-necked, with narrowed eyes, large ears, and a broad-shouldered, muscular body. His hair was black, longer than usual for a Russian, and it was in wild disarray as though he clutched at it a great deal.

 

Boranova made no move to introduce him. She said:

 

- Was that woman talking to you?

 

- Yes, - said Morrison.

 

- She recognized you to be an American?

 

- She said my accent made it obvious.

 

- And she said she wants to visit the United States?

 

- Yes, she did.

 

- What did you say? Did you offer to help her go there?

 

- I advised her to apply for a passport if she wanted to go.

 

- Nothing more?

 

- Nothing more.

 

Boranova said, with discontent:

- You must pay no attention to her. She is an ignorant and uncultured woman… Let me introduce to you my friend, Arkady Vissarionovich Dezhnev. This is Dr Albert Jonas Morrison, Arkady.

 

Dezhnev managed a clumsy bow and said:

- I have heard of you, Dr Morrison, Academician Shapirov has you always on his tongue.

 

Morrison said, coldly:

- I am flattered… But tell me, Dr Boranova, if that serving-woman annoys you so much, it should be an easy task to have her replaced or transferred.

 

Dezhnev laughed harshly:

- Not a chance, Comrade American – which I expect is what she called you -.

 

Isaac Asimov

 

Part six is unfortunately lost in his web version; but you can find it in the book AIR 16

 

and here you have the following part : grotto