dedicated to M.P.
…The sun had already set. The day time sounds were silently growing away. Village small fries' voices were still ringing somewhere, while a tractor kept rumbling with great exertion over a forest. Bumping and rattling, an unfilled lorry teetered. By that time, there had been no cargoes left, and a cheerful driver in a wrinkled cap was recklessly steering home, where his wife was already waiting for him with supper, where a brassy wash-hand stand at an apple-tree was already full with cool water, with which he would wash soon, snorting gently, and trickles of water would run into the unbuttoned neckband of his high-collared tunic, when he would unbend and start wiping himself on the move, and his bluchers would clatter on the wooden porch. …The dust settled. Baluev returned to a road and smiled again, recalling the openly good-natured face of the driver, when the latter waved him a farewell through the dropped side's window of the cabin. Baluev was stepping, and autumnal evening's coolness was covering him with smells penetrating inside. The autumn was poured in the air. It was gloaming. Still, it was possible to discern dried-up brown grass by the sides of the road, grey stones, fallen leaves brought by the wind from neighbouring woods, while the pinery, which started at the right side of the road, stood like only an entirely dark wall. Baluev had already been walking for a long time, and a lot of things had been left behind: and hilly fields with braky gullies, and birchwoods up hursts, and villages with clamorous kolkhoz-women in white curches, and a woodreeve's lodge at a cut-through, and a daughter of his, who put a jug of milk and bread with a plate of odorant amber honey on a dressed table, honey was flowing by a thin trickle down on the bread, the milk was pouring into a white mug, she was silently smiling and looking at Baluev; there had been left behind a wide river with a polyfoil railway bridge and attentive wardens with rifles, a ferry, creaky telegas, sacks, a tufty accordionist with a prosthesis, a quay appearing silently from a fog, an old man buoy keeper, a boat, a drizzly rain, gleg heavy oars, a wet tree's smell, grey cellars, shutters at windows with aspidistras, tabourets near entrances of one-storeyed brick houses, white bedsheets on ropes drawn between trees, a black cat, geese at a pool, village cooperative stores, the anthem over the radio, an impetuous gale from the river, a steamer's hooter, brick tubes of a beer plant at the very coast, a cliff, a bench, yellow leaves, naked trees, the first snow, spring pools, the soil touched by late frosts, a fresh tilth and rooks on it, roofs pendent with icicles, swallow's nests under the eaves, kites on a shivering whiplash, an unexpected gaze, somebody's song on the opposite bank, rare letters, night fires, a smell of smoke, a rain in a fur-tree wood, a calico dress, dry aspens, the plant's narrow-gauge, a lodge, forgotten telephones, a motor depot, a fence, an office, violas, potatoes burnt into cinders, a wedge of courlans above a forest, an old wardrobe, table vice in a shed, a sawmill, Fima the bagman, a burnt down house, titmice in a winter wood, a barrow with soda pop at the corner, a telegramme, rain-pipes, a rest house at a lake, ice-slick, her wet hair, the last bus, lanterns at a road, a door clapping on the wind, clean sheets of paper, snowed up fields with straggly dry grass, a shy touch, tears, a fire on a dacha, a taxi, a sensitive dream, a hot whisper, janitors, bluets in the rye, an empty birdhouse on a birch, a brittle willow at a river, a nightingale, distant boltless lightnings, a train to the East, a path to water-meadows, jerky declarations, a refusal, river glides, a librarian in glasses, dogs barking in a fog, frogs in a lake, a gray-haired director, larks above a field, tarred poles, telephone wires, power lines, a gramophone, a broken plate, hay in a sledge, silent avenues, a mirror in a corridor, a village teacher, a call from Berlin, a stream-ice, vicinal roads, running down declivities and winding between coppices, a wayside pelmeni caff on the outskirts of a dusty town with Klava the nippy, her gloomy groom from a locomotive depot, funny chums of his, silent mechanics, tired teemers, a cracked up pack of Belomor cigarettes, bread crumbs on a table, reeky borscht and a muddy bellied burette with vodka, a paymistress, who has left for a minute, a turn in a grocery and a vehicle with bread, which stood before the back stoop, groggy loaders, a wicket's scratch, windows opened in the warm evening with plates' clank, with kitchen smells, with conversations, with cigarette smoke and two silhouettes behind drawn window-curtains swinging in the wind, the moon; numerous stations and jerkwater towns had zinged behind windows of different wagons, nocturnal pack-houses, waggonages covered with a spotty tarpaulin; many times had already Baluev descended platforms of unknown stations with porters passing to and fro with metal buttons on breast, with peaked caps and white aprons, with evening newspapers and cigarettes in round booths, with latest news over street loud-speakers, with promises of diverse meetings, pleasures, and disappointments; many times had he jumped from a shaking board on another hithe, where port cranes were hooting, tug-boats were buzzing about, strung-up taskmasters were hurrying with discharge, the deliveries' schedule was broken again, and there was a real danger of failing concreting, where the second pilot in his jerkin with a fur lining was calling somewhere to a far northern town, while Masha from a weigh-house was still ill, where an aglint mining plant was fuming on volcanoes, and waggonages with coal and ore kept knocking on rails, letter and omnibus trains were running somewhere, bearded conductors were carrying tea in ajingle glass holders, in a car with reserved seats geologists in thick sweaters were smoking and two undergraduettes were furtively ogling them…
…Baluev kept walking. The forest was already over, the fields were cut and turned over on both sides of the road, stars were flickering, and the fog was gathering in lowlands. The road climbed up, but it would very soon run again downwards and across an arroyo with unsafe wooden bridges, through alder clammy gills, by a farm, by a brickyard, and a powered station, and it would touch a small station, where a sleepy attendant with two new pennons – yellow and red – with still shaggy wooden handles, which she would just be given, and which would stand out from a pocket of her mazarine high-collared jacket, would be eating a big apple, and where a letter train, in volumes of white vapour, with the dark-red dim star and the bright searchlight above, would be stopped for two minutes by a special demand, and would be shining by its nickel-plated handrails, which would be wiped hastily by surprised and looking out conductors cloudy with sleep. Having given two hooters, the waggonage would begin to move and, having gathered way, would carry Baluev through the night, threading the space on the dark-blue beam of the searchlight, and early in the morning, very soon, blowing down, it would freeze at a station of a big city, when the city's clock would only have stricken there, when the streets would still be wet after street sprinklers, and the hardly risen sun would be slopping cheerfully about in puddles on the pavement, when packs of fresh newspapers would not be unpacked yet in bookstalls, trams would still be empty, and janitors, ringing their keys, would only start unlocking gates.
Being the last who alit at the platform, Baluev would soon see her, who would be a bit late and therefore almost running towards along the wagons. Luggage carriages, porters, and different people – all these would constantly be interrupting them from each other, then, when it would become quite close, she would slacken the step and, having already almost fetched her wind, would exhale with a confused happy smile, "I was so afraid I'd be late and, you'd go away for some reasons, not having waited for me. Silly, isn't it…" He would be looking at her shining eyes for a long time, would cuddle her, and they would be walking the platform together, and people would be turning around after them. Having forgotten that he smoked no longer, he would mechanically reach out for cigarettes – there, where in his pocket, all this time, all this long way, the key to her house had been…
Minsk, October 2000
Russian-English translation: Andrey Bursau, Minsk