Cucumber Route

Igor Izbortsev



Cucumber Route
(A short story)




- Sonny, buy some cucumbers, will you?  Fresh cucumbers, plucked from the bed right now, -  old Vera smiles, and deep furrow-like wrinkles on her face move too, revealing their  under paleness, so that her face heavily tanned in the Sun seems to get radiant because of the pathetic  pink tiny rays that show out. The sonny a gray-haired man in his sixties gives her a casual glance and closes with a bang the door of his shot-with-pearl foreign brand car behind him. After some seconds, the car disappears in the looming vista of the melting in the midday sun tarmac road
Ivan tried to count up how many times since the morning old Vera had uttered this phrase. It came out to no less than twenty.  By some reason she ignored women appealing preferably to males, sonnies as she called them He remembered the gray-haired pensioner of recent and grinned to himself:  sonny just fancy! But on the other hand she could allow herself to call him so. Is she past eighty five now? Well, shes sure to be older than that about ninety years old. She is.
He ripped off a thick layer of his memory overgrown with long ranks of noughts in new many-roubled notes, with the Perestroika-time wish-wash and Soviet-time pyatiletkas (five year plans) There he was, seven or eight years old, and there was old Vera  -  just the same as she is now: unmercifully burnt by the sun, hardened by frosts,  with that worn out flesh of hers because of endless hardships, and the face resembling a geodesic map this is her miserable topography Our mummy Isnt it how they used to call her? Not only her children but many villagers  too. But now people stopped calling her so.  But why?   Eh-eh-eh
Ivan pushed away the burden of his sad thoughts and looked at the package full of cucumbers standing close by him. Well, it makes no sense to think about the past. To sell out the cucumbers that is the question of to-day. Since the morning he has pushed off six kilograms at fifteen roubles each ninety roubles altogether. Thats the long and the short of it! But old Vera was after all in luck: she sold out some twelve kilograms. Folk probably thought that it was easier to make a bargain with an old woman.
And not without reason: about two hours ago a mean squab of a man from a red jip bought at a bargain three kilograms of her cucumbers - at seven and a half rubles a kilogram. A vile creature, thats what he is! Ivan spat in a fit of temper. Its just a liter of petrol for his foreign car, isnt it? Old Vera understood his jester in her own way: - Got tired, sonny? she asked, and her rays-wrinkles moved  across her face in a compassionate way.
Help yourself to my kvas, there it is in a jar over there in the bag. Thank you, old Vera, but I am not thirsty. Ivan shook his head and spat again.  There is a nice life for you! We have been sitting here near the shop with you in this heat for half of the day unable even to talk so exhausted we are. While Dimytch, always drunk is loafing about. Why, he does not care about anything else. But we are sitting and sitting here. And what is the use of it? Someones satiated happiness is flying by, and what? It is as greedy as to spend fifteen roubles, while in their city shops cucumbers cost twice as much. But those are not cucumbers at all, are they? Chemistry alone! But life is flying by. Flying by, old Vera!
-Life is always such, - willingly agreed old Vera; she began stirring, gathering her sacks and bags, - Id rather go and give some water to my cow. I say, Vanya, how are your Galina and little ones? You are living in the district center now, arent you?
- Theres a memory, - wondered Ivan, - remembering both me and my wife. Aged ninety as she is.
- Well we are okey there, - he mechanically whisked away a streamlet of sweat from the forehead to the temple, - I work as an electrician in the district provision department. Galka doesnt work for the present, its difficult to find job. Its not only here that they closed all work places, there they did their best too. So now on week-ends I have to sell here my mothers cucumbers. I cant say no to her, can I? She is unwell, you know.
- Yes, Ive heard of it, - old Vera flung the sacks with the unsold goods remains over her shoulder, - give her my regards then. You know I used to take Anna to the church as she was a girl, even taught her to sing Cherubs prayer, yes, I did.  I wonder if we can see each other again.
But thank God for everything! she crossed herself and scraped out along the asphalt in her shapeless, stiff from time high galoshes.
Ivan was vacantly following her with his eyes, the same vacantly listening to the eccentric cries of the local hysterical woman Darya heard from behind the stalls; to the hollow roar of the air over the road pierced by torpedo-like cars; to the jarring of wheels and grinding of brakes brakesThere was something wrong on the road: the movement forward was stopped, and cars were forming a long file.
But for the time being, Ivan paid it no heed, he kept looking at the broken little figure of old Vera until it melted completely in the looming from heat midday haze.
From round the corner of the shop there turned out Dimytch. He looked around in a wild way, pulled up his slipping down green tights which grew brownish because of dirt, and staggered towards Ivan. The latter spat in a fit of temper knowing very well what he would have to hear another moment.
-Eh, my soul is burning and Rasseya is crying! sang in a foolish falsetto Dimytch  (this scoffing saying of his always jarred on Ivan). Will you give me hundred grams of vodka, Vanyok?
- Leave me alone! waved aside Ivan. Youll soon croak from your swill. Well, you are  younger than me, arent you? And what? Your wife has already turned you out of the house and your children have nothing to eat. You have completely degraded!
- Yes, I am a swine and a skunk too! agreed Dimytch, and dusting the wall with his back he slipped down and squatted near Ivan. -  Shoot me!  I am ready! But first give me some spirits, my soul is burning.  Do you hear how Dashka is bellowing over there? Why, she is suffering too. But she doesnt need that hundred grams, whereas I do need desperately. Give me some spirits for her, be a man.
- Even if I had any I would give you none, said Ivan abruptly in a stern voice, - why should you drag Darya in this after all? She is not in her right mind. Perhaps she suffers for some others sins. Father Nikon says like that: all around are sinning, but she alone is answerable, she is the only one tormented by demons. But youd better come to your senses and stop rolling down.
- I do tell you I am a skunk! But I always give Ninka all my odd jobs earnings, I do. Never spend them in drink, Id better ask for spirits.  Actually, - Dimytch shook his fist in the air, - its not me who thought of closing the saw-mill and farms, its not me who sold out the collective-farm herd. Skunk as I am I did work all my life. But where to work now?
- Move to the district, will you? Ill help you to find some job, - Ivan sighed. It appeared that Dimytch was absolutely right: there was not any job in the neighborhood.
- Ill think it over, - promised Dimytch and pointing at the road lowed: - have a look whats going on there!
- And indeed, the situation was becoming heated: the tail formed by cars became longer, stretched aside and its end was not seen. Klaxons bonked, the drivers shouted down the roar of engines, the passengers were leaving their burning hot stuffy boxes and were spreading about the square near the shop.
- Ill rather go and work there a little. Eh, my soul is burning and Rasseya is crying, - Dimytch shook in motion his unkempt tousled grey hair and wedged himself in the midst of the extending crowd. In a minute his long round-shouldered figure was looming among the fiercely gesticulating and shouting inhabitants of this strange and unexpected here motor-car train.

Now, riding on the wayside past the paralysed row of cars a big Mercedes wheeled in the square; it was followed by a huge like a carriage black jeep. Four well-fed formidable looking lads wearing black suits and ties rushed out of it. They looked round in a professional manner and without delay began driving the tumultuous crowd back towards the road. Ivan was surprised to see a short-barreled gun in one of the mens hands.
Soon the square became empty, the people pushed away to their cars spoke emotionally in undertone, but mostly shot glances at the direction of the Mercedes. The door of it, just from the drivers side uncorked, and there appeared a tall blond man of energetic looks wearing a bright green coat. He quickly rounded the car and opened the right back door Firstly a foot in a pointed black shoe without a speck of dust on it touched the asphalt, felt it with disgust as if testing the earths validity. After being reassured that all is more or less suitable, the foot summoned its mate, and then, in a second, all the rest came in sight: a dark man of medium height in a very expansive stylish striped suit. Master!
Might he be our governor or maybe some minister? Ivan thought but on a better look understood: - No, our governor is, by no means, younger and looks somewhat more homely, he does. Then minister, isnt he?
Yakov Lvovich! a nervously-looking plump undersized fellow rushed up to the master. Where would you order to call? The district administration? The district office? Or right Presidents administration?
- Call the devil himself if you choose, Aron, but in half of an hour I must be in that damned district center, - the Master was speaking in a confident rattling like a cracked telephone membrane voice. And though not a single muscle moved on his well-cared long-nosed face, Aron cowered and became quite tiny. He jumped aside, snatched a phone from out of his pocket and hysterically began yelling something.
- Ivan could not make out the words for Aron turned to the wall and kind of enveloped the telephone with his jelly-like body; he only could hear violent frantic yells. Like a hysterical woman, really, - he thought and turned his eyes to the Master. The latter holding his nose with a handkerchief paced the square in a measured tread, four hefty guards protecting him.
- Haw mach are the cucumbers? Ivan started and saw the wearing-green-coat driver who squated in front of him.
- What? he tried to concentrate to remember the price of  his mothers kitchen-garden gift he had kept to from the morning, and having remembered it with effort he reported:  - fifteen a kilo.
You mean roubles, do you? grinned the driver displaying a row of white teeth which shone like those on an advertising poster. I say, its kind of cucumber route that you are having here. When driving here from the city I got tired to count cucumber sellers like you. Where did so many of you appear from?  Here you are, - he held out a ten-dollar note and took from the bag the smallest cucumber. Is it enough? I am Pavel, by the way.

Ivan said his name and tried to return the money:
Why, take it for nothing. There are so many cucumbers, you know, because the cucumber crop was good this year. Last year all were selling mushrooms here. So the secret is quite simple. You take your money back, will you?
- You dont mean to offend me, chief, do you? Pavel smiled a wider  than before smile, - I am paid well enough , - he motioned to his master. A pretty pot of fish is here, - he warily bit off from the cucumber and spat: - Phew, what a bitter stuff!  Our papa is obviously wrought up! I wonder what is going on here?
- A crash they say, - Ivan was still fumbling the bank-note in his hands doubting what to do with it, - somewhere in front right on the road  a log transporter has overturned.
- Well, I do know this, - Pavel waved his hand impatiently, - but our papa is none the better for it.  He is being awaited in your god-forsaken district center by the Head and deputies, Though, this is nothing. What really matters is that in three hours his plane is taking off. For London. The plane of his own, - Pavel smirked. Since your primitive local crafts cant fly an inch after the governors nose Ill have to revolve the steering-wheel as far as Moscow. However, its not a problem for me I am a first-rate professional! By the way, it appears that Yakov Lvovich is your papa too.
- What do you mean?  - asked Ivan in surprise. By some reason he felt ill at ease to communicate with this glossy, apparently some five years his junior fellow in green brand-new coat with his artificial smile. How can it be? - he asked again, feeling a disturbing dull pain in the pit of the stomach.
- It can, - Pavel calmly looked in Ivans eyes, - Yakov Lvovich bought all your volost: villages, fields, meadows, woods everything in fact. Now he is your patron and master. How can it be? Ivan stopped short. We thought our volost was given up as a bad job, many people moved away for good. The school was closed, the hospital, the club and the library What else? The saw-mill, workshops, farms. The collective-farm herd was sold out, tractors were disassembled for spare parts Why, then, they have destroyed this all?  To harm him?

- You are a simpleton, Vanya, without offence, - ironically smiled Pavel, - wholl harm Yakov Lvovich I wander? It is he himself who has arranged it all. And what is the use of your schools and hospitals for him? And he doesnt need you all here either. Hell settle everything here anew, in a European style. Hell deliver the Chinese here. You know how well they work, dont you? Well, they will grow ecologically unpolluted cucumbers here.   Once a year Yakov Lvovich will come here for the rest with his friends considering that it is but a step to Europe from here; and at the same time they are likely to help themselves to the cucumbers in question.


- Cucumbers? it seemed to Ivan that he is going out of his mind. Or, maybe, Pavel is playing a practical joke on him? Though there was not seen any sign of slyness or dirty trick in the serene grey-bluish eyes of his. Can it be true then?
Somewhere near Darya let herself go. Yakov Lvovich herd her cries and started nervously:
- Who is yelping there?
One of his guards rushed over to know it. Here, out of season, Dimych with his ineradicable  pain cropped up:
-  My soul is burning, - exclaimed  he in an artistically pathetic way, -  and Rasseya is crying!
- Its some crazy woman who is shouting over there behind the flower-bed. Think she is drunk, -  reported the guard promptly and at the same time punched Dimych between his shoulder-blades. The latter moved aside tragically sobbing:
-  Rasseya is crying!
- Shut her mouth up! commanded Yakov Lvovich raising his voice, and for a moment his face was cut by black lightnings.

But suddenly the cavalcade of cars startled, made a move and floated in a slow way.
- Thats all, - Pavel abruptly rose to his feet, - its time, good-bye and think kindly of me. Though, maybe well meet again, - he winked at Ivan and darted to his car.
- Wait! Ivan jumped up to his feet. - Wait!
- Well? Pavel paused and inquiringly looked at him.
- Is it all because of cucumbers? Is it possible that they have torn up by the roots  the whole volost for the sake of ecological cucumbers? Why, we could easily deliver a van of cucumbers each year for your master just for nothing
- What a funny man you are! What will he do with your cucumbers? Pavel showed his white teeth. Well, he never ate cucumbers at all, why should he?  So try to understand it. As to your volost What is a volost after all?  He has far more high-level views. Pavel raised his chin motioning to the sky. -  Well, then. See you, - He gave a parting wave and not long after he has closed with a bang the door of the Mercedes.
- Ivan could see how Yakov Lvovich, like a Tsar, was seating himself in his automobile throne; how nobly he was treading the belonging to him land under his pointed shoes.
His heart grew numb and did not feel the heat any more.
The jeep roared with his honk and pressing the flood of the cars back to the center of the high- road, darted onward along its side. The Mercedes rushed after it The iron medley of cars  was lumped together and rode towards the horizon. And having already pulled the rest of the car tail into itself it proceeded to roar and honk scaring the local birds which were not used to such noise.
- Cucumber children of a cucumber countryNo, you wont be given such a chance. Youll be chocked with it, - whispered Ivan feeling drops of sweat swelling on his forehead: the heart was thawing out calling for life and conditions for it
- What are you murmuring there? Dimych leaned on his shoulder and gave a deep sigh. Look here, to-morrow Ill really make for the district center. One can go mad here. You only look at my hands! he stretched out  his huge horny hands. Ill cope with any work.
- Youll do, - nodded Ivan, caught his hand and squeezed it. We are not cucumber children you and me. Well work, and if necessary, stand up for ourselves. 
- What are you talking about? Dimych looked about. Overheated here, havent you?
- May be, - Ivan shrugged off the question. Well, Ill be waiting for you to-morrow. You know where to find me, do you? And hereGive it to Nina, - he put the crumpled ten- dollar note into Dimychs hand. Will you do it?
- I will, - nodded Dimych willingly, pulled up his green-brownish tights and strolled homewards.
- In an instance Ivan forgot about him; he beheld old Vera. With the sacks full over her shoulders she was mincing to her rightful market place. When she neared him completely he smiled and asked her in  a low voice:
- Mummy, teach me, please, to sing the Cherubs prayer.