It was early morning; my teeth had not stopping shattering for a moment, even for a tiny fragrance of the second. We know that the winter would be soon upon us, we were able to feel it in our bones, which were what we get from our bodies. Only skeletons, barely covered with skin, our muscles were not so strong as before. We were living every single day on the verge of dying.
Sometimes, we envied our brother out there, whose hearts stopped beating, they were no longer able to see what we saw, and they did not feel the desperation anymore, the cold and the fear. I envied them, too. Yesterday, there were two deserters, boys on age of nineteen, they crossed the barrier, reaching the no men’s land, and they waved their hands up into the air. The Germans did not shot, but our commander set fire on them. In the next second, their bodies laid on the ground, the ground was soaked up by their blood. They were too young to die, too young and gullible to survive. Who could blame them, would accuse them of something?
As I said it was morning, but we were no longer able to recognize then it was the middle of the day, when it was time for breakfast. Our stomachs were rumbling in desperation for something to eat, something different from the porridge. Instead, we were given an extra alcohol and cigarettes too boost our spirits, to deceive our minds.
When you saw countless times how many of the soldiers gave up, how they crawled to the Germans in deceitful promises of being kept alive, when you were being told that your mother, sister or wife had not crossed Volga. When you saw Russian children captured by the enemy, being dispatched to your front line in order to collect information and you witnessed how they were shot on their spots due to their ‘wrong-doings’, you accepted your extra drunk ratio for the day with sheer joy and exuberance. Sometimes you even asked for more, so much more that you would be able to extricate everything from your mind, for a while, until you were told that you would die if you did not fire. Then the reality sober you up with such intensity that for a fracture of the second you might be captured into the illusion of being alive.
Ivanovovich who laid near me, with his body half buried intro the mud, was trying to roll his tobacco with a newspaper, his eyeballs were so widely visible than he looked like a lunatic that a human being with his senses. It was his 21th day on the front, you could not expect more. He was proud to be alive, but his only solace was his smoking habit.
‘ Do you want one?’ he asked me with his chin mudded by the ground.
I gave him a nod; he as a response gave me one far from impeccable cigarette with shaking hands. I was wondering how he is allowed to hold a weapon after all, but I guessed than he had no choice after all, like many others.
I fired it; the bitter taste of it filled my throat entirely. I would give up everything for being out of here. Soon, we had to collect the bodies of our soldiers who died last night. I was given a written order that the pleasure would be mine , well, that suited me perfectly.
This would be my last order, I knew it perfectly well, the commanders somehow were aware of it, too. They were like greyhounds, being able to nose out your fear, they even indicated it before you, if that happened, you were simply done. You were bound to be forever gone, for better or worse.
I don’t know how you would judge me, but you certainly do not have right, you did not see what I saw, you did not feel what I felt. I would be forgotten, my grave would be empty, my name would not be pronounced, and my ashes would be turned into dust from the past. I already knew, they would write down my name as a traitor, as unworthy to the ‘Motherland ‘, too discreditable to live.
Call me a traitor, call me a craven, I don’t really mind. My town, Stalingrad, was my cradle and it would be my grave, as much as that I could not ask.
They raped my sister before she crossed the river, the Germans, they made ruins from my house, my mother and father laid unburied beneath the ground of bricks, steel and desolation. I had been robbed by everything, I was left on my own. Later I was told how the evacuation did not take place until the last possible moment, orders from our leader, orders from above.
I will tell you a secret, when you stand in the roll with your brothers, when you hear their hearts beating so loud that they could escape from their chests, when you see the unlived young on their faces, you know that from the first shot coming every man is for himself. Leaving behind everything, only an indomitable and incomprehensible will, spirit and courage survived, until the first days. Until you don’t see to many dead bodies to ask yourself whether this is a life or death all together. You cry, you scream, but there is no one around to hear your cravings.
If the madness did not come to you, then the alienation would devour you.
The commander gave me a sign that I should go. I strolled around the lines without much haste, watching the faces of my brothers. Some of them wished me a good luck while others averted their eyes from seeing me. They knew.
Soon, I reached the target, the bodies were scattered into the no man’s land like a bags with potatoes. The ground beneath me emitted a crisp sounds every time I moved, the hail was the one to blame. The most terrifying thing was the silence, believe me, such silence could not bring anything good. I continued walking, with every further step I was approaching the German border, I would lie if I told that I did not feel the electrifying feeling of anticipation.
Only two miles.
I was there, all I could see was ruins of buildings, broken homes, no hope, nothing. I looked upon the sky. Did you know what I saw? White pigeon, he was flying above me. Then I stepped in. There was fire, the guns penetrated into me. My body dropped on the ground and all was able to see was the bird, flying up, unreachable and free.
‘Would you care my soul, little bird?’