Anecdote 2 (Gerasim).
No, not one shall be forgotten who was great in the world. But each was great in his own way, and each in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved.
The Chistye Prudy, or Clean Ponds, are so named because they were cleaned once, under some tsar or other. They haven't been since; on a sunny day, it is possible to see the rainbow's entire spectrum splashed across the glistening surface. Still, on the benches that line them, you can always see a few old men, engineers who have found nothing they wanted in the new order but left nothing behind in the past--and you can always see Gerasim, hiding his soft gray eyes and potato nose behind a tangle of thin white hair.
Gerasim has never said anything to anyone. Every day, he sits on the bench and gazes outward with a placid countenance. Sometimes, a child or a small dog will walk past him, and as he turns his eyes toward them, his expression changes into a beatific and gentle smile, filled with the joy and the wonder of perfect innocence. Other times the remembrance of some past tragedy flickers on his face and he turns his head sideways as if trying to shake it out of his ear.
Gerasim is a sandstone crag carved by a Chinese monk between cups of green tea, the face of an awakening Buddha that watches sideways over a tiny harbor. The Lord comes and goes, but Gerasim endureth forever. He does not ask himself if time is a circle or a hexagon, if souls transmigrate, if men have free will or anything to lose but their chains. His love is perfect; it is a love for the human race and for each member of it, a warm blue glow, like a prayer that breathes. It has the cleansing power of ten thousand hot baths, fifty-nine million cups of hot cocoa, eighty billion quilted comforters.
Gerasim cannot move, for in moving he would destroy. He holds his love like Atlas; at the slightest touch it will plummet and shatter.
Anecdote 3 (Pugachev).
Turned away from you, the one, I spent myself upon the many. For in my youth, I burned to get my fill of hellish things.
Pugachev dreamed that he was the commander of an army, rallying his forces, the musclebound hussars on his strong right wing driving like a polished saber into the enemy host again and again. Bayonet, lunge, parry, smash through bone and gristle, crimson fountains like the spit-ups of some infernal newborn. He woke up without knowing if he had won, remembering nothing but the opal eye of a vulture circling high above the blood-soaked steppe.
He left the house by a back exit, creeping along the sides of courtyards, the hood of his raincoat always raised, crossing the street only with a thick crowd, avoiding the subway's too-intimate embraces, lingering in a store under the shoddy pretext of reading a day-old tabloid newspaper, running past churches and libraries and dive bars, lighting cigarettes and dropping them a minute later. His fake passport was clammy with cold sweat, the imitation watermark blurring like a camera lens smeared with Vaseline. With the help of five years in the mountains and a few bottles of black dye, he could now pass for a well-off Chechen; this meant that if he was stopped, a five hundred ruble note slipped into the proper sweaty red hand could make him invisible. A man with a Makarov in his shoulder holster and a knife in his boot and a revolution in his head cannot afford to take risks.
Every flat-screen Sony television in every glittering white store bore the grinning face of some government stooge, some bulbous oil-fed apparatchik. They spouted their lies and their buttery honeyed promises for the future, as if anyone believed them. They were the oppressors, the inheritors of the sins and the mahogany offices of the old regime, and there was nothing to be had from them except the whip and the late-night basement cracks of ten rifles under Lubyanka Square. They were going to hold us down and sell us off to the Americans. He knew this much to be true.
It will not take much. We have not tolerated this in the past. We will sweep them before us. We will rise like vampires, we will not look back. It will not take much. We need just one more try at ruling ourselves. This time the same butchers will not come back to their leather chairs. It has only been fifteen years, but already they are rolling up their sleeves, as the song goes. They are sharpening their axes, flashing gold teeth in the headlights of black cars, dreaming of dachas and villages of six hundred souls. We must stop them again, it almost worked last time. It will only take one more revolution, then we can at last march onward to a radiant future of passion and hope.
One more revolution.