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Greetings from Afar

I’ll Never Leave You, Mama

It was a warm and sunny day in late spring, and the two little boys had been
out, like most of the local children, playing in the forest, and picking
berries… a common enough passtime for a pair of six years olds in a sleepy
little Russian village. It was 1962… a tense year for the world as a whole,
but not so tense for the inhabitants of Stoyietal, which, having been
bypassed by the recently constructed M-8 Motorway, was a lethargic place,
with most of the local “community” life centered around the usual Russian
activites of work, school, The Party and The Church. The old Moscow to
Yaroslavl Highway… the road that bisected the little city, was mostly unused
now, and generally served only to provide transport into Moscow the products
of the local factory, a conduit for heavy trucks laden with bricks, lumber,
cement and other items necessary to the building boom instituted a few years
earlier by then Premier Nikita Kruschev. In short, life was good in
Stroyital.

The two little boys crossed the old highway north of the city and started
out into the forest in the general direction of Taratovka, the next little
village, some five kilometers distant. They had intended to walk to
Taratovka, picking berries as they went, and catch the local electric train
back to the Stroyietal Platform… a two or three minute ride. Sasha and
Pasha… Alexander and Pavel… had been friends for all of their short lives.
They had both been born in Stroyietal, had grown up together, living in the
same building, in adjoining flats, and… that very year… starting school
together at Public School 284. They were typical “best friends” and were
certain that they would be so for “life”.

The trip through the woods to Taratovskaya was without incident. The boys
had, in fact, a little trouble managing the heavy bucket that now coutained
some five kilograms of berries that they had picked along the way. They were
glad to get on the train, even for the three minute ride back to their own
platforn… just so they could put it down and rest their tired little hands.

The conductor… there were live conductors in those days… announced
Stroyietal Platform. Of course, the boys were already aware of this fact.
They picked up their bucket and left the train along with all of the other
commuters. It was now only a short walk home for them. They would make it
long before supper, and have plenty of time to wash their berries… and of
coursse… cram a few down as they did it.

Fifty feet from the platform, they came to their first, and only obstacle.
The road leading to their block of apartments crossed the old Moscow to
Yaroslavl Highway, just as it came out of a blind curve. The boys looked
carefully… both ways… then started across. They never saw what hit them. The
hugh Zil truck… what the locals call a “Trumanski”… because it is a direct
copy of the GMC Ten Ton Army Trucks that Truman sent to the Soviet Union on
“lend lease”… rounded the curve in a scream of brakes and blaring horns. The
driver saw the two boys, but only too late… He literally ruptured the break
lines on the heavily laden truck trying to stop…. but…

Ten tons of cement in hundred pound bags added to the weight of the moving
truck made stopping impossible. The truck skewed, first to the right, and
then to the left, in a screem of tires and a cloud of dust as the driver
fought for control. He tried with all his might to herd the big machine away
from the two little boys and into the opposite ditch… It was an exercise in
futility…

With a sickening thump, the front of the Zil crashed into little Sasha
Lushkov, tearing him away from Pasha, who was clear of the road surface, but
only just…

The driver of the truck finally stopped the vehicle. Knowing what had
happened… what he had done… he jumped from his cab and ran to the crumpled
body of the little boy, now lying in a mangled heap, some twenty feet from
the roadbed. Little Pasha began to cry as he realized what had happened to
his “best” friend, and ran home, as fast as he could. It wasn’t far… not
far at all.

Strangely enough, Sasha still alive when the driver found him. He remained so
for several minutes… long enough for his friend, Pasha to return, leading
their distraught parents… Also surprisingly, the little boy was still
conscious… barely…

The local Militia, who had arrived to question the driver of the truck and
take the necessary statements had already summoned an ambulance. It was, of
course, too late… Little Sasha died in his mother’s arms, looking up in
seeming wonder at her pain-twisted face, and that of his best friend. He
could hear the plea in the voice as his mother begged him not to “leave”…
not to “go away”… In his little mind, he was unaware of his own condition…
only that his mother was afraid that he would leave her, and that she would
be “lonely”…

“Don’t cry, mama,” he whispered. You won’t be lonely… I’ll never leave you…
I’ll always be with you”. Then, he closed his little eyes, and died.

The funeral was one of the biggest in the history of Stroyietal. It wasn’t
every day that a child died. The schools turned out, the factory closed.
Everyone attended. The truck driver who had, of course, been absolved for
his part in the death, walked solemnly and silently beside the tiny casket,
huge sobs wracking his body as the procession wound it’s way to the
cemetery. Like everyone else in Stroyietal, he knew the family. His own
children were not much older than little Sasha.

Two years passed.

Another child came the following spring, and Pasha, still stopped by the
Lushkov’s flat every day to say hello. Sasha’s toys were still on the shelf
in the living room, and his little wooden chair still stood beside the
kitchen table. From time to time, his little sister would play with them,
but, even as she grew, she never sat in the little wooden chair. In time,
the Lushkovs decided that they needed more room, and began the process of
moving to a slightly larger flat that had become available on a different
floor of the building. As always, Sasha came over to help…

They were just getting ready to make the final trip, when someone noticed
that they had forgotten Sasha’s chair. It was still standing in its usual
place, beside the kitchen table. Irina Lushkov, Sasha’s mother, put down the
load of books that she was carrying, and stepped back into the now empty
flat. She quickly went into the kitchen and grabbed the little chair,
thinking to put the books in the chair, which was quite tiny and not heavy,
and take the entire load to the new flat all at once. When she stepped into
the kitchen, she noticed that the little chair was gently rocking back and
forth, shifting slightly from one side to the other as if someone had just
been sitting there, and had risen suddenly. She looked around the room. It
was empty. She called out to Pasha, who had been “helping” them move, and
asked him if he had been sitting in the chair. The boy came running back
into the flat, to see what his friend’s mother wanted, but, his answer to
her question was, of course… no… He had been well out into the hallway at
the time. Irina Lushkov looked around to see if the toddler, Marina, was in
the room… No… also in the hallway.

Strange… She then reached down to pick up the little chair… At first, it
seemed unusually heavy, and slightly cool to the touch… As she picked it up,
a tiny, child’s voice said… “Mama… I told you that I’d never leave you. I’ll
always be with you…”

Pasha, who was, at that time, standing just behind her, also heard the
voice… and recognized it instantly as that of his little friend… Today,
almost forty years later, a far-away look still crosses the big man’s
weathered face face as he tells this story… “As far as I know,” he says,
“Sasha is still with them… They live downstairs you know…”

© 2011: Dr. J. Lee Choron; All rights reserved unless specifically granted
by  the author  in writing.