Cont'd from page six gently. Lina nodded silently. Alex knew that look on her face. He had seen her looking just like that in the courtroom where he and Sergei had stood in the dock.
"In that case, we have to attack! Don't do anything just yet, let me sniff out the situation. You know I'm an old troublemaker from way back. Now where's this orphanage?"
Ibelieve we've already met, Inna Petrovna," said Alex, smiling
disarmingly at the supervisor of the orphanage. He settled comfortably into the visitors' chair.
"Really? I'm afraid I don't remember."
Nevertheless, the supervisor kept a welcoming smile pinned to her face: the press has been given a lot of freedom lately, so it would be prudent to maintain good relations with her unlooked-for visitor. She made a mental note to take him along to hear the orphanage choir: they would be rehearsing for New Year, and the sight was guaranteed to melt the hardest heart.
, "It was back in 1982. Surely you haven't forgotten? In the city court? I was on trial for circulating Samizdat, and you were one of the people's judges. Why, you even signed my : sentence — seven years' strict regime camps. I still have the documents: signature, seal, the whole works. I must say it's a pleasure to see you again, working in such a humane job. . ."
"Alexander Ivanovich, you know perfectly well what times were like then. We didn't have much say in the proceedings at all. But I always had the deepest sympathy. . ."
"But of course! I realised back then that your heart was in the right place. That's why I've
come to see you now. There's a matter I'm deeply interested in, Inna Petrovna, and I figure you're the best person to ask for help."
"Certainly, certainly! Only too happy to be of assistance. . ."
In her mind's eye, the supervisor could already see unpleasant headlines such as In Whose Hands are Our Children?", if not worse. It wouldn't be easy to get rid of this fellow. Maybe he could be bought off? But what guarantee was there that he wouldn't come back for more?
"In your excellent orphanage, Inna Petrovna (I have no doubts that it's exemplary in every way!) there is a little girl called Marina Savina. She is a distant relative of mine — so distant, in fact, that I cannot produce any documentary evidence."
"Oh, of course I know little Marina! She's quite my favourite! Such a bright, loving child!"
Issue a quick order to have the kid's personal record amended, thought the supervisor in panic, and have her dressed in new clothes. Now you and I are on the same hook, comrade journalist. But maybe it's a lie that he is related to the child, and it's a cover to write some kind of exposee of the way the orphanage is run? Lord, how old is the wretched kid? I should have said that she's been transferred elsewhere, and then whisked her away before he could check . . . I made a bad mistake there . . . or did 1?
"The thing is, Irma Petrovna, a very nice family would like to adopt her. But I know how difficult that is — all those endless formalities, forms, committees . . . especially when there are obstacles."
"Our laws always defend the interests of the children."
"I'm sure they do. You and I know all about the law, don't we? And I'm certain that you, Irma Petrovna, will understand the interests involved correctly."
"I should hope so! But you know that the decision doesn't rest just with me."
"A woman like you, lima Petrovna, can achieve anything she sets out to do," insisted Alex gallantly. "You wouldn't let anything stand in your way."
Their conversation lasted some time, so the inspection of the orphanage Pioneers group had to put back one and half hours.
The smallest children were not in the Pioneers, so they were shepherded off for their usual walk at the usual time. Tania was already waiting, and Oleg was to follow later, because Mum had sent him off to get some milk, and the queue was a very long one.
"What do you do at home in the evenings?" asked Marina.
"It depends. Tonight we're going to make decorations for our Christmas tree. Dad has promised to get a really big tree, but it's up to us to make all the decorations. Do you know how to make paper chains?"
"I don't know. What's Christmas? You decorate a fir tree for New Year."
"Rubbish! It's only on television and at school that the tree is said to be for New Year. But in fact . . . you mean to say you truly don't know? Has nobody ever told you?"
"You don't need to look at me like that! We don't have anyone for this sort of thing, see?"
"Christmas is God's birthday. He was born in winter, when it was cold, and he had nowhere to spend the night. So his mother put him in a manger in a stable so that he'd be warm, because they were very poor. But the shepherds who were watching their flocks nearby came and brought him gifts. And there was this wicked king, who wanted to kill him while he was still a baby. . ."
"Was God really ever a baby?"
"Of course he was, but he grew up and saved everyone from their sins. Still, at first he was just a tiny baby, and his mother carried him around in her arms."
"But what would have happened if he didn't have a mother?"
"No, that's impossible. He had a mother, the Virgin Mary. and she was holy. That means she was very, very good."
"You mean this is a fairy tale?"
"No, it's the truth. You're not saying you don't believe in God, are you?"
"I don't know . . . Ann Ivanovna says that God doesn't exist."
"But you've told us yourself how wicked she is! How can you believe anything she says?"
"Is God . . . kind?"
"Kinder than anyone, and he loves absolutely everyone, including you."
"Me? Then why hasn't he ever come to me?"
"He came to everyone when he was born, then and forever. We just can't see him now. But we can talk to him. Mum taught us how. You have to say Our Father, and he'll hear you straight away, even if you don't say it out loud."
"And you give him presents on his birthday?"
"No, Christmas is a time to give presents to one another. You only pray to God."
"That's not fair, though! If he loves everybody. . ."
"Maybe he doesn't need presents, I don't know, Marina, I'll have to ask Mum.
At that moment they were joined by Oleg, and set about building a snowman. However, the orphanage children had to go back before the job was done.
/ / I I ey Marina, you're going to be sent to another orphanage — one that's for mentally retarded kids!" announced Nadia maliciously as the girls settled down in their dormitory that evening.
"No I'm not! I know it all, I heard everything!"
"Don't pay any attention to her, Marina," said fair-haired little Olga comfortingly. "You know she's only being spiteful."
"Spiteful yourself! You'll see. . ."
Marina went pale, and turned her face to the wall.
"Cry-baby!" jeered Nadia, bouncing up and down on her bed, but stopped abruptly as Dasha, one of the staff members on night shift, walked into the dormitory.
"Settle down and stop talking!" she commanded, snapping off the light.
Marina had a bad habit of biting her pillow whenever she wanted to cry. Would she be allowed to go with the others to the park the next day? Anna Ivanova had already said "no park for you" that evening, because Marina was late for choir practice. But tomorrow was Anna lvanovna's day off, so maybe the other teachers would forget to carry out the threat. Tania and Oleg would be waiting for her near Lucy the lime tree. But what if she should be sent far, far away, to some other town? Nadia's a spiteful cat, but she always does seem to know everything, because she snoops around and eavesdrops. Then Marina would be all alone, and that nice lady, Tania and Oleg's mother, would hardly go all the way to see her in some home for mentally retarded children, would she?
". . .Our Father, do you really love me? Please. Please don't leave me. I won't tell anyone, I'll talk to you in secret. I haven't got anything to give you on your birthday, not even Oleg's tin soldier, because Lonnie took it away from me. If you like, I'll draw you a Christmas tree, I know how. I guess you must feel a bit hurt to get no presents at all. There's one day in the year here at the orphanage, when everybody's
Is once,and we get cakes, and jellies, and dance. I'm not a cry-baby, God, truly I'm not. . ."
As usual, Tanis was hanging on Uncle Alex's neck, squealing
with glee. Oleg leapt out from behind a cupboard with a bloodcurdling yell, and the three of them collapsed in a tangle onto the couch. Uncle Alex had to submit to the indignity of being "skinned" as he was enacting the role of a sabre-toothed tiger, but then Dad came in and told the children to take themselves off for a walk.
"Secrets again!" grumbled Tania.
"Look into the crystal of my eyes", sang Uncle Alex in dramatic, operatic tones. He wrapped a scarf around her neck and gave her a push towards tae door. Then he looked around the room, and raised an eyebrow at his friend in mock reproach: "And where is the third little bed?"
"Alex, stop fooling around and tell us!" besought Lina, putting down a sock she was darning.
"I hear and obey, Milady! Well, this is how it is. Yesterday I paid a visit to the dragon in charge of that orphanage. She's a real sweetheart, that one! I bet she eats iron nails for breakfast. I offered to make her a present of the documents of my trial and sentence. Funny, the things some people want to have: so I decided to make her happy and give her those precious papers!"
"Marina shall be cleared for adoption in three weeks' time. I've got all the forms for you to fill in, and the list of things you have to do. But in order to avoid any little surprises the unlovely Inna Petrovna may have up her sleeve, we'll go and take the kid from the orphanage today. That way, if there are any bureaucratic hitches, she'll find it tlard to explain why she let Marina come to you over the holiday season if you're unfit to be adoptive parents. And now, is there any chance of getting a cup of tea in this house?"
"Alex, you really are . . . a wonderful troublemaker! Forget about the tea, let's go and fetch her straight away!"
"You're a hard woman — no thought of offering a little comfort to one who's suffered. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from talking to that gorgon. I had to bargain for that kid like a gypsy at a horse fair. My best feelings have been trampled — and my worst, come to think of it! To think we'd live to see the day, Sergei• • -" The bus was jam-packed and filled with the sour smell of wet coats and fur hats.
"Don't take it amiss if she tells a lot of fibs at first," counselled Alex. "I lied to all adults as a matter of course when I was in an orphanage. To keep them at arm's length."
"It'll pass. The kids have got their term holidays now, so they'll be with her all day."
"How will you cope on your two salaries?"
"Like everyone else. Sergei will get some evening work, and I've been promised some translations."
"Well, you can look to me to supply her trousseau when the time comes! I'll spoil her rotten until she's old enough to go to the altar. You just watch us ex-orphans! By the way, I hope I'm invited for Christmas?"
"If you behave yourself."
"Alexandrovsky Prospekt," announced a disembodied voice over the public address system. "Next top — Frunze."
Frunze was where they had toget off.
It was time for dinner at the orphanage, and the children were lining up in pairs to go
to the dining-hall. he duty teacher hurried in, looking flustered.
"Marina, get your ti ngs together. Inna Petrovna ants to see you in her office. They've come for you."
"Where's she going, trya Andreyevna?"
"To the mentally r' trded home, just like I said!" owed Nadia.
"1 don't know," ado ..ed the teacher. "Come on, Me ina, get a move on! Don't stand there like a stuffed dummy! '
"Hear that, Marina? Maybe your mother's come for you!"
"Stop being such a pig, Nadia!" snapped C ga.
"Darya Andr yevna, she pushed me!"
"Quiet, all of you! Get back into line!"
If your hanJs are shaking, you should breath slowly and evenly through your nose. Oleg had told h r that.
Marina put on a brave face, and he Jed for the door.
Cr Irina Ratushinskaya. 1990 :rina Ratushinskaya. 's dutobiographical work about her life and imprisonment in the Soviet Union, In The Beginning, was published by Hodder, in March.