The battle for the village subsided .... Through its dusty streets, heavily stamped with boots, the last groups of Red Army soldiers retreated: in faded tunics, sometimes black from the stained sweat. Soviet troops, exsanguinated by the continuous battles of the last weeks, left the town, surpassing them in strength, the enemy.
On the outskirts of the village, single shots were still heard interrupted by short automatic bursts, and in some places grenade explosions sounded, and behind the church on the Maidan, German roared engines Tanks. But soon some painful silence came, elusively ominous in his expectation.
The walls of the surviving huts, dotted with markings of mines and shells, were exposed to shingles. Hit by bullets, young apple trees drooped in the collective farm garden, bleeding with juice from fresh wounds. Black smoke from burning houses and tanks rose from many places in the stanitsa. Caught up by the wind and mixed with dust, he settled in the surroundings with a suffocating bedspread.
The once-busy, crowded village seemed to die out. The villagers, mostly old men and women with small children, who did not have time to evacuate, hid in huts. Flying birds are not visible, and there are no audible voices of domestic animals before. Even the usual nonsense of dogs guarding Cossack farmsteads, has long been broken. And only somewhere else, on the outskirts, she continued to plaintively moan someone's unmorthed dairy cow calling for a lost proprietress. But soon several shots were heard from that side, and the miserable animal subsided. The world around is empty, submitting to silence, as if hiding in anticipation of the coming thunderstorm ....
At the edge of the stanitsa, in one of the houses standing on a hill, with shutters tightly closed, the front door creaked barely audibly, and in the gap that formed, two cautious eyes flashed curiously. Then the door creaked once more, letting the blond baby head out. A swirling head with a freckled face and a nose flaky from the sun shot blue eyes around, looking around cautiously, and finally, having decided, leaned forward. After her, a thin little body of a boy of ten appeared in the doorway.
The little Cossack was called Vasilko. In the abandoned hut remained concerned mother with one year old sister, whimpering in her arms. Vasilko spent his father on the front last summer. Since then, she and her mother have received only one news from him: a crumpled triangle with a purple postmark of field mail. Mother, bending over the letter, cried for a long time, dropping large tears. And then she began to re-read it, almost not looking at the sprawling letters on wet paper, and already recited the lines from the letter to the children.
Vasilko, clinging tightly to the warm maternal shoulder, listened fascinated to his father's words in her mother's voice, and his little, insensitive sister crawled at their feet and mumbled something in her incomprehensible language. From a short letter, the son first of all truncated that he was fighting in the cavalry unit and beating the fascists well, which all of Vasilko’s friends already knew about in an hour, and that he became the subject of his special pride. In what part and where the old man served, he did not know, but he believed that the letter was about the Kuban Cossack corps, about the heroic affairs of which Vasilko heard from the black radio plate hanging in their hut on the wall. It didn’t work for a long time now, and sometimes he didn’t try to pick the wires going to him, trying to liven up the incomprehensible machine, but still he was silent.
And the cannonade that arose once over the horizon, as an echo of a distant summer thunderstorm, began to gradually increase, advancing closer and closer to the village every day. And the time came when fighters assigned to them in the hut began to gather in their haste and began to run out into the street without saying goodbye. And Vasilko so hoped to get to know one of the soldiers, and to ask him for one single patron for himself. Then shells in the village began to tear, and one of them demolished the dome of the church, the golden glow of which was used to see Vasilko every day, going out in the morning to the porch of his house.
Frightened mother, grabbing her daughter, made him, pushing, to descend with them into the cellar and tightly closed the entrance cover. And now he has been sitting in a cold pit filled with the smell of sauerkraut and peeled apples for more than a day and looks at the unsteady light of a melting candle, which the mother lights from time to time. Vasilko is languishing from inactivity, and it seems to him that he has already spent forever in this joyless imprisonment. Starting once again from the close squeak of a rustling mouse, Vasilko raises his eyes to the ceiling and listens intensely to the echoes of the ongoing battle in the village, worrying that he cannot witness the exciting events happening there. And without noticing it, he falls asleep again.
Vasilko woke up from an unusual silence. Next to him, his mother breathed measuredly and her sister sniffed calmly with her nose. The boy, trying not to wake the sleeping ones, rose to his feet, quietly headed toward the manhole and stepped onto the stairs. The wooden step leading up, under Vasilko’s foot, squeaked treacherously, and he frightenedly measured, fearing that his mother would wake up and bring him back. But everything worked out, her even breathing did not get lost. Lifting the heavy lid of the underfloor with effort, Vasilko held it down and, in the same instant, slid it outward. And now he is standing on the porch of his hut and looking at the world, not recognizing him as he remembered. Much has changed now. In that old world that surrounded him always, there were no burning and crippled huts, ugly craters from shells, broken fruit trees and other traces of destruction, but the worst thing was that there was no such people who were surrounded by Vasilko now. You can not see familiar faces and good smiles, nowhere heard friendly words. Everything disappeared, all around one emptiness and oppressive feeling of loneliness.
The little Cossack was uncomfortable. I wanted to rush back and cuddle up to the warm side of the mother, who can protect and comfort him, as it always has been. Vasilko had already opened the door to the hut, gathering back, but then his gaze caught on the object standing on the block of wood in a pile of wood. "Wow, you! .. This soldier's bowler ...". And, having forgotten about all his troubles, Vasilko rushed at full speed to the desired discovery, hurriedly forgotten by someone from yesterday's soldiers. The delighted boy grabbed the precious bowler and began to twirl it in his hands, already thinking to himself: “I will show the lads today. ... No one has anything like this ... I will go fishing with him and cook my ear. Or maybe I change from Fedka to his scooter, brought by his brother from the city, or from Vanka to a penknife with two blades, or ... ” Ambitious plans in Vasilko's head began to line up in a long line. The rounded metal bowler so captured the attention of the Cossack that he did not immediately catch the obscure movement away from him. And looking up, he dropped the pot to the ground in surprise. He fell down with a bang, plaintively tinkled the handle and rolled away ...
On the other side of the street, directly opposite the Vasilkovaya hut, along the wattle fence, leaning on a rifle and dragging a foot along the ground, a stranger made his way to the neighbor's house. The boy sat down in alarm, seeing him off with a wary look. But it seems that the stranger did not notice him and did not hear the sound of the fallen pot. Rounding the fence, the man limped to the porch of the house, crouching heavily on his leg. Vasilko noticed how difficult each new step was for him. Mabuchi, wounded ..., thought the lad, watching the actions of the man climbing the porch.
In the neighbor's house lived Matrona's aunt, who once threatened to tear his ears, if he did not stop chasing her geese. Vasilko long concealed her insult and forgiven when he learned that Matrona’s aunt’s husband was taken to the front with his father ... A month ago, she took three children and went somewhere to her distant relatives, asking mother Vasilko to look after her home.
The door to the hut of Matrona's aunt was closed. An unfamiliar person tugged on the handle several times, then something cracked loudly there, and his figure disappeared into the doorway that opened wide open.
Vasilko sighed with relief, but nonetheless became thoughtful. “To tell the mother - will pull out that he ran away from her. Go see for yourself - scary ... ". The little boy looked around helplessly, as if searching for someone to answer the difficult question, but there was still no soul around. And Vasilko decided. Having crossed a deserted road, he slipped into the familiar hole of his neighbors and quietly crept to the house. A long moan, coming from a window broken by the blast, nearly turned the little boy back. For a second, numb, listening to the sounds outside the window, Vasilko moved forward again, driving away the fear that had rolled to his heart. Overcoming the steps of the porch, the Cossack, through the open door, darted his mouse into the hall, and there, hiding, froze.
Silence reigned in the hut, and Vasilko suddenly heard the frequent beating of his own heart, almost the same as that of a caught sparrow when you covered it with your palm. Inside the house of Matrona's aunt, the boy felt more confident; here he was a frequent visitor: he was friends with his host children.
Vasilko looked into the kitchen: "No one ...". Only at the window, buzzing, crawling over the surviving glass thick nasty fly, shining with mica wings. From the entrance to the scraped-to-white floor stretched a chain of sprinkled cherry drops, which went farther - into the upper room.
Trying not to step barefoot on the suspicious marks, Vasilko stole across the kitchen and, reaching the door of the room, stopped breathing. Stretching his neck, he peered deep into the room ....
Near the bed, covered with a colorful blanket with whipped pillows, lay the same stranger on the floor. Closing his eyes, he breathed hoarsely, lifting his chest hard and shuddering with the protruding Adam's apple. On the pale face of a man from a high forehead under short-cropped hair, thin streams of gore branched down his cheek. On a light homespun mat, a wide dark spot spread across his legs. The wounded man was in military uniform, in the same one that Vasilko saw in the stanitsa on the Red Army men. But the clothes of the stranger were in a deplorable state: covered with a layer of dust, smeared with blood and torn in several places. A burnt-up field cap with a red asterisk on it was tucked behind the lap belt with the knocked-down pouches to the side.
“Our”, Vasilko finally no longer doubted, looking at the wounded Red Army man. The fighter’s hand, limply turned aside, continued to squeeze the rifle, as if for fear of parting with it. Lying next to the soldier weapon Immediately riveted the attention of the little Cossack, and Vasilko did not notice how the wounded man awoke. From his moan, the boy started and looked at the Red Army man. He lay there without moving, but his eyes were wide, and his unblinking gaze rested on some point on the ceiling.
"Uncle ...", Vasilko called quietly, turning to him. The soldier heard a close, timid call and raised his head, peering intently at the side of the voiced voice. Acknowledging the child in the entry, he sighed with relief and relaxed the tensed body. Vasilko made an indecisive step towards the wounded man and looked fearfully at the rifle. The Red Army man, who did not take his eyes off him, intercepted the boy’s timid glance and said with a gentle affection in his voice: “Do not pushes, lad… She is not charged ...” - and, curling his lips in a pained smile, dropped his eyelids.
Vasilko, emboldened, approached the soldier’s lying body, crouched beside him and rubbed his sleeve, trying not to look at the wounded man’s blood hair: “Uncle ... Uncle, what are you doing?”.
He again opened his inflamed eyes and, blindly looking at the Cossack's face, asked:
- Where are the Germans? ..
“Not much, uncle,” answered Vasilko, standing on the floor with his ripped knees beside the wounded man, leaning over him and with difficulty sorting out his weak whisper. And then he added from himself - “And ours are silent”.
The Red Armyman, blindly groping the floor with his hand and feeling the sharp knee of the boy, clasped her palm and squeezed slightly:
- Khlopchik, I used to drink some water ...
“I am at a time, uncle,” Vasilko immediately flew to his feet.
Throwing into the kitchen, the Cossack looked for a bowl of water. But in vain: there were no cauldrons, no mugs, or any other storming tank. Surely, before the departure, Matrona’s zealous aunt hid all she could before returning home. And then it dawned on Vasilko: he remembered about the left pot in his yard. Having run out from a hut where there was a wounded soldier, the fleet-footed little boy rushed across the road. He picked up the pot and, turning round abruptly, was about to get back, but a close loud shot stopped him. The Cossack, throwing himself around the corner of his hut, disappeared behind him and looked out ....
On the opposite side of the street, several people walked leisurely in an unfamiliar gray-green uniform towards their houses. Approaching people were with weapons: part - with black submachine guns in their hands, part - with rifles at the ready.
“Fascists! ..”, Vasilko froze in place, trembling with horror, and the first thought was: to run, to hide in the thick mugs growing behind the house. But he did not leave. He declared his fear - for himself, for his mother and sister, who remained in the subfield, and the wounded Red Army man left in another hut, the snake crawled into the boy's heart, forcing him to sweat his forehead with a cold sweat. Having clung to the wall of the hut and overpowering the trembling shaking from within, Vasilko continued to follow the enemy.
The Germans, looking around, came closer, and Vasilko could already distinguish their faces. One of them, lanky, with glasses, stopped, raised a rifle to his shoulder and fired somewhere to the side, into a target not reachable by the Cossack. A deafening shot made the boy flinch. The lanky, lowering his weapon, flipped the bolt, throwing a shiny cartridge into the roadside dust. Another German, almost head and shoulders below the first one, laughing and shouting something to the first one, without aiming, slashed from the hip from the machine gun through the nearest bushes on the side of the road.
A rifle shot and a dry, short line of the machine gun aroused the last two hens and he had left with the mother in the hen house behind the Vasilko hut. The hens, which were still silent, began to cluck with displeasure, and the Cossack looked back with annoyance, fearing that the noise might attract the attention of the Germans. Carried ... Those, as if nothing had happened, continued their leisurely procession down the street.
After some time, reaching the outer houses, the German soldiers crowded in the middle of the road and began to discuss something loudly, gesticulating with their hands. The words from a jerky, barking language in which the Germans were expressing themselves clearly reached Vasilko’s ears, but he did not understand their meaning. The distance separating the Cossack from the enemies allowed him to examine them in detail.
... Short, open jacket with shiny buttons and sleeves rolled up to the elbow. Behind shoulders are satchels, arms in hand. Each flask in a case and a helmet-pot are suspended on a wide strap with a massive plate, and on its side is a metal box similar to a cut piece of a large pipe. The fascists stood on the road, their legs spread in dusty boots-sockets with short voluminous tops. Some of them were puffing on cigarettes, spitting on the ground with creepy saliva. Throwing back their heads, they drank water from the flasks, shaking the Adam's apple around their necks, and then again entered into a lively conversation, and how the Cossack surrendered, they argued.
There were ten of them altogether; and they were all enemies for Vasilko.
Then one of them, it seems, the chief, turning his face towards the Vasilkova hut, jabbed a gnarled finger, as it seemed to a frightened boy, directly at him. The Cossack struggled against the adobe wall, trying to merge into one. But, it would seem, the fascist's all-seeing finger, having unexpectedly described a semicircle, had already moved in the other direction and was tagged into the neighbors' hut. Others following the movement of the finger of the older German agreed with their heads and, telling him, as Vasilko heard, something about oxen: - “Yavol ... Yavol ...” - the whole Matrona’s crowd fell into the yard.
There they, again after consulting, were divided. The two went to the barn and began to shoot down the lock hanging on it with the butts. Two more, somewhere picking up an old basket along the way, went whistling to a perelazu in the fence, separating the house from the garden. The puny German at the end of the courtyard, stealingly looked back, quickly darted into the cellar, covered with reeds. Others dispersed in the farmstead, looking at the outbuildings. The older German, accompanied by two submachine gunners, slowly climbed onto the porch and, letting in front of him his guards, followed them into the house.
Vasilko cringed into a lump in anticipation of something terrible. The Germans stayed in the hut for a very short time, as it seemed to the Cossack, for whom the time run stopped. Soon the German chief appeared on the threshold. Down from the stairs, he turned around and stood expectantly, arms folded on his stomach, supported by a strap with a hanging holster.
From the halls of the hut, pushed by machine guns, he stepped out onto the porch, staggering, a Red Armyman, whom Vasilko knew. The Cossack's keen eyesight was only now dismantled in the light, despite the pale blue of the face distorted by pain, how young he was. Behind the prisoner stood one of the machine gunners and held his rifle in his hand.
“Why are you not driving them in, uncle? ..” the little Cossack thought wondering when he saw the weapon of the Red Army man in the hands of the fascist, completely forgetting about the unbuttoned, empty cartridge pouches and the unloaded gun.
Stopping, the wounded man straightened and looked up, looking ahead. But a strong blow that followed from behind, threw him off the porch, and the Red Armyman, having rolled down the steps, hit his face on the ground and stretched himself at the feet of the German chief. He disdainfully shoved the Red Armyman’s long lifeless hand with a toe of his dusty boot and ordered something to his subordinates. Jumping to the lying, the Nazi soldiers pulled him off the ground and tried to put him on his feet. But the Red Army man was unconscious, and his body, breaking into his knees, strove to fall to the side. Then a German with a pistol took a flask from his belt and, unscrewing the cap, he splashed water on his face. After that, the wounded man woke up and, opening his eyes, turned his tongue around his parched lips, trying to catch elusive, breaking drops. He hesitantly, but already stood on his own feet, and, supporting him on the sides, the machine gunners retreated to their chief and stood beside him.
The wounded Red Army man finally came to his senses. Running his hand over his wet face and leaving blood stains mixed with mud on it, he wiped his hand on the hem of his tunic and looked at the Nazis who were standing in front of him. In response, one of them began to say something to him, as if proving something, and several times he showed his hand in the direction from which the Germans had come. And then, as he saw Vasilko, he waved dismissively in the direction in which the Soviet troops were retreating from the stanitsa.
The wounded Red Army soldier, sometimes swaying, kept his balance, trying not to lean on the wounded leg, and silently looked at the German with an expressionless look. When the fascist was tired of explaining himself to the prisoner in Russian, judging by some of the warped words that the boy was able to make out, he switched to German abuse. There was no doubt that the German was cursing Vasilko: he was shouting loudly, opening his mouth wide and turning red in the face. But the Red Army man still remained silent. The fascist, having finished cursing, began to wipe his red bald head with a handkerchief, burning in the sun, like a tomato in the garden of Mother Vasilko. The German soldier, hiding a handkerchief in his breast pocket, glanced at the prisoner standing in front of him and asked something, as if repeating his previous question.
After the words of a nervous German, the young Red Armyman looked at him derisively, as if he had seen it for the first time, and shook his head. The angry Fritz began to curse again, waving his arms in front of the captive. But then our soldier raised his shoulders, drawing more air into his chest, and at once exhaled him towards the Germans with one tasty, well-spit. And burst into uncontrolled sincere laughter, shining teeth on a young face.
The shocked Nazis recoiled from the prisoner, probably suspecting in the first second that the Russian had simply gone crazy. And our soldier continued to laugh; and so much breaking power was in his merriment, so much hatred of his enemies and such superiority over them that the nazis could not stand. The eldest of them shouted something evil, sharply raised and lowered his hand. At the same moment, on either side of him, the tracks of two bursts flashed and crossed on the chest of the Red Army, pulling out the cloth of the tunic with tatters. He did not immediately fall down: the vital juices in the young body were still strong. He stood for a second, for another, and only then, when his eyes were blurred and blurred, the soldier stumbled and fell on his back, his arms outstretched. And the older of the Germans still blindly fumbled with his hand on his left side, frantically searching for a holster, and only then, pulling out a gun, began to shoot the lifeless body ....
Vasilko saw everything - until the very last second. The Nazi reprisals against our wounded soldier shook him to the very depths of the soul. Tears that filled his eyes flowed down his cheeks, leaving light paths on his grimy face. He sobbed bitterly, not daring to weep tearfully, and shaking his thin body, leaning against the wall of the house. Then he heard the disturbed voice of his mother, who had called him from the doorway. In the hut, behind the closed door, clinging to the hem of her skirt, Vasilko, without ceasing to cry, began to tell. Mother was sitting on the bench: listening, stroking his head and crying too ....
On that day, the Germans visited their hut. They didn’t touch a worried woman with a small child and a kid on the bench.
Vasilko sat in the hut and frownedly watched their dishes beating, pillows being torn open and sheets being torn. He heard the trampled glass of a fallen photograph crunches on the floor, and how the hens are worn, flapping their wings, and their hens. He saw, heard and remembered everything. The Germans went further along the stanitsa, littering the Cossack courtyard with chicken feather and goose down ....
When twilight began to descend on the stanitsa, Vasilko and his mother, taking a shovel from the shed, left their yard. The sky in the east was beating with fiery flashes and muffled peals of thunder. In the village it was quiet, only from somewhere far away drunken Germans bawled out. Passing the street, they entered the courtyard with Aunt Matryona. The shot Red Army soldier lay near the porch and with open eyes looked into the darkening sky.
Vasilko and his mother took turns digging a hole in the garden, and then, trying to get out of their way, dragged the body of the slain on the ground, trampled by other people's boots. Placing him in a hole, his mother folded his arms across his chest and crossed herself. Vasilko took the shovel, but the mother, bending over the soldier, pulled his pouch from behind the belt, removed the star and handed it to his son ... The boy put it in his breast pocket - closer to his heart. Covering the soldier’s face with a cap, they began to fill the grave with earth ....
Many years later
I sit in the courtyard of my grandfather Basil and listen to his leisurely narration of the war. Above us scattered the branches of the apple tree, from where the white color flies, whirling: it lies on the shoulders, showered the table, at which my grandfather and I sit. His gray head rises above the table. You can't call him old: so much strength in a lean body, so much energy in the movements of sinewy hands, that it is impossible to establish the true age.
On the festively laid table, there is an unopened bottle of misted Georgievskaya, but we drink the strongest grandfather's pervach, and then deliciously crunch with pickled cucumbers. The black-eyed Cossack, the grandfather's daughter-in-law, bustles around the yard and puts on the table, bursting with abundance, more and more new dishes. Hospitable hosts for the guest are ready to expose everything that Kuban villages are so rich with. And I must admit that I was tired of making excuses from the hospitable intrusiveness of the owners, and silently nod my head when another bowl appears in front of me. I'm fed up, but out of respect for them, I continue to poke around with a fork in a plate and pick up the pile, clinking glasses with my grandfather.
Possession grandfather Basil noble. A large brick house has now grown in the place of the cob hat. Compound asphalted and surrounded by a metal fence. Near the sturdy outbuildings, from which comes the incessant hubbub of all living creatures, one can see the “foreign car” of the eldest son casting silver metal.
The grandfather talks about the war, as if he was fighting there. Although, according to my calculations, at that time he was about ten years old, not more. But in his words there is so much truth, and in the eyes from under bushy eyebrows there is so much pain that I believe him in everything.
He remembers, worrying, and I worry with him. The soldier about whom the grandfather was talking, has long rested with comrades near the Eternal Flame on the stanitsa square. His ashes after the war were transferred there by the forces of the guys from the search party. And grandfather Vasily still often visits him as an old friend. And it goes not only there ...
The grandfather pulls me along, and we get up from the table and, bypassing the gate, we find ourselves on a wide stanitsa street filled with people and cars. We cross the road, turn into a lane planted with trees, and then we go through green gardens. Then we go around someone's yard and fall into place.
On the cleared sandy ground there is a small, freshly painted obelisk with a red asterisk above. Brass plate with a concise inscription: "Unknown soldier 1942 year." At the foot of the obelisk - a fresh bunch of wild flowers.
Sly grandfather pulls out of the package stuck bottle, simple snack and three disposable cups. Pours vodka, and we drink without toast: "For him ...". Then grandfather Vasily shakes off empty cups and hides them. Only one thing remains: full to the brim and with a piece of bread on top. There ... Under the obelisk ...
We stand side by side and silent. From the story of my grandfather, I know who put the obelisk ... But I do not know him. A minute passes, another ... Grandfather stretches his hand into his breast pocket and takes out a bundle of linen fabric. Carefully, without haste, he unfolds the corners of an ordinary scarf and extends his hand to me. A small five-pointed star gleamed in the palm of a drop of blood ....
This red star is one of the millions scattered on arable fields and in impassable swamps, in dense forests and in high mountains. One of many scattered in a thousand kilometers of trenches and countless trenches.
One of the smallness that has come down to our days.
This is the sister of those that remained under the tombstones; and those that shone triumphantly at the walls of the Reichstag.