A few more than 1000 words today, but I had to finish this story.
Hoops with Lenin.
I am not sure how this happened. I am an average, everyday farmboy. I work hard to make the collective successful. I am out there every day, hoeing potatoes and chasing birds out of the barley fields. I do it for the greater good, not because I am selfish and want a better life for myself. I am the perfect socialist. I guess I failed because sometimes, when all of my chores are done I like to play basketball. I justified it by saying that after all of my hard work and contributions to the collective, I need some way to unwind, some way to clear my head. Plus, it is good exercise, and helps to keep my body healthy as well as my mind.
I guess someone in the village reported me. Perhaps I was getting too good, making the others in the collective feel unequal to me because I was able to hit the three-pointers almost every time. However it happened, the Politburo heard of my achievements, and I was picked up one day by stern faced men in dark sedans. As is common when this happens, nobody was told the reason I was being taken. As is even more common, nobody asked. Around here, sticking your neck out is a sure way to get your head lopped off. And I am not speaking figuratively. Remember Anatoly last year? He complained when they turned off the electricity in our village so that it could be re-routed to the summer dachau of the local bureaucrat. The rest of us were happy that we had something to contribute to his happiness. We all know how hard they work to make life better for us, and giving up lights at night and refrigerated food was hardly enough to give up for them. But Anatoly, he started to complain. Quietly at first, and then louder and louder. Even made some crude flyers and tried to hand them out to people. Of course, nobody would read them. Then the stern faced men in their dark sedans showed up, and Anatoly disappeared. Well, not all of him His head was found impaled on a fencepost just outside of town. The rest of him disappeared.
Riding in the sedan, my pulse pounded in my ears. Several times, I had nearly worked up my courage to ask a question about where we were going, but every time I thought better of it. The stern faced men volunteered nothing. The all sat staring straight ahead. The one sitting in the passenger seat was smoking a cigarette, and the harsh smoke blew back and made my eyes sting. I could tell it wasn’t the cheap tobacco that we got in the village. This smelled different, almost aromatic. I guess the jobs that these guys had were pretty tough too, and if getting better cigarettes for doing it made life better for all of us, then they deserved them. I was glad I was just a farmer though. Cutting off peoples heads was not something I think I could get used to. Even for expensive cigarettes.
At some point I fell asleep. The tension turned quickly to boredom after a few hours, and the late summer sunshine pouring through the windows combined with the tension of my situation to make me drowsy. I dreamed of stern faced men armed with machetes. Over and over again, they chopped my head off, and impaled it on a fencepost. I could see my house from that fencepost, and no sooner had I realized that a disembodied head would not be able to see its own house, no matter where its particular fencepost was located, than the dark sedans would drive up the rutted path to my house, and I would be there, in the front yard again, wondering why the dark sedans were coming to my house. It was a repeating nightmare that I experienced with an odd sense of detachment. Unlike other nightmares I had in the past, I felt no terror. No waking up in a cold sweat, no creeping in to my parents room to curl up on the floor at the foot of their bed just to be near them. The dreams had an air of inevitability, as if this particular destiny had been accepted in my mind long ago, and I was meeting it finally with what might have been a small amount of relief.
I awoke to the sound of a slamming door. The car was stopped, and the stern faced smoker from the front seat had gotten out and slammed his door. On either side of me, the men were stirring and stretching. The door to my right opened, and I followed the man next to me out and into the waning sunshine. As I looked around, my heart began pounding again. Although I had never been out of my small village, I knew at once where I must be. Moscow. The seat of government for the entire nation! No other city could be so large and prosperous! Buildings taller than I could have ever imagined rose up around me. The terror I had felt before was nothing compared to what I felt now. What horrible crime had I committed to justify bringing me here? What could a simple farm boy have done? I attended all of the party meetings, I wore my grey coveralls with pride. My parents were both faithful party members who never spoke ill of anyone in the leadership of our great nation. One of the men grabbed my arm just above the elbow with a steel grip. I stumbled along with him, my knees suddenly weak and my feet leaden. I kept glancing around, trying to spot the one with the machete, but none of them seemed to be concealing anything of the sort. Perhaps I was to be executed by firing squad instead. At least that would be less painful. At least I thought so. What did I know about firing squads?
As the evening sun fell behind the tall buildings, I was led into a dark courtyard. The smooth pavement felt foreign under my feet. I continued to look around wildly, trying to guess from what direction my death would come. Would they give me one of those expensive cigarettes to smoke before my death? A blindfold? A last meal? I suddenly realized that I was starving. I had eaten nothing since the thin gruel my mother had prepared for breakfast. At least a glass of water. My toungue felt dry and swollen. I swallowed, trying to force some moisture into my mouth.
Suddenly, my arm was released, and the stern men faded back from me. On the far side of the courtyard, a door opened and blinding electric light poured out into the blackness. Several shapes emerged, then the door closed again, leaving the courtyard once again blackened. I could see even less now, my eyes having been temporarily blinded by the blazing light from the doorway. Still I could make out the sounds of a group of men headed my way. Just before they reached the spot where I stood cowering in the darkness, they stopped. A loud voice, filled with authority and command ordered lights. I heard the crash of heavy switches being thrown, and giant floodlights filled every corner of the courtyard with harsh, brilliant light. My eyes ached with the effort to adjust to the rapid succession of light, then dark, then light again and I stood there blinking stupidly. When I regained my vision, my eyes fixed immediately on the man at the head of the group from the building. Although I had never met him before, I knew that face better than the farm-hardened visage of my own father. It was the father of the revolution himself! Vladimir Ilyich Lenin stood before me, a half-smile softening the normally sharp face which graced a million posters throughout the country.
My heart stood still. I must be dreaming. There was nothing that my simple mind could conceive of that would justify my position at that moment. I was standing in the presence of the single most powerful man in what to me was the universe. Then I saw what he was holding in his hand, casually balanced on one hip. I would have collapsed then and there, but I was paralyzed. I could not even bend my knees to fall to the ground. I knew that my pridefullness and selfishness was about to be punished. I recalled all of the times that I had shamed other members of my commune with my superior skills and I shuddered. Here was the payment for my deeds. Here stood my reckoning and punishment. The head of the nation was holding a basketball.
Seeing my discomfiture, his half smile broke into a broad grin, and he brought the ball off his hip and caught it with his other hand. Holding it out in front of his chest, he extended it towards me:
“I hear you are quite the ball player. Would you care for a little one-on-one?”
Thursday October 19, 2006 - 10:49am (EDT)
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