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Муратов Алексей Игоревич
The Tee (Чай) перевод Дениса Юрьевича Мерзлова

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  The Tea
   I"ve met him commonly. His name was Gena. Sergei was mine. I terribly didn"t want to wake up, but I knew it would take some ending.
   - So? - I sat on the second tier of the bed.
   - How long are you going to stay with us? - He sounded malicious.
   - For a month or so. No desire to come back earlier. - Voice of mine wasn"t sweeter.
   I certainly had to say my dreams goodbye.
   - Who let you sleeping here?
   - Someone on your side. I asked not his name.
   My new acquaintance thought for a moment.
   - My sleeping-bag...Ah, don"t worry. I"ll get another one. - Though he took no efforts to go away.
   - Thanx! Got some tea?
   - Tea?! - I had never seen such reaction to that common question. The next pause settled in the air. To interrupt it I carefully said:
   - I have some alcohol in my bag. The problem is to find it.
   He smiled, looked around and sighed:
   - Let"s go. We"ll find everything. Except your bag, perhaps.
   I shifted to the floor. Few seconds and I saw few people poking behind my new acquaintance"s back about. Few seconds more - low excited voices started discussing me and my friends.
   - Silence! - His reaction was immediate, - These are not our guests. They came to take in chiefs" positions. Find free berths and go to bed.
   I pushed the neighbor whom I hoped to be my mate Alex.
   - I don"t sleep!
   - Where"s my bag? - I asked under my breath.
   - I had some too. In the flask.
   - Quicker! I need it. We have a chance lose these places.
   An attempt to find new ones in that unknown for us environment among strangers looked like brave beetle"s attempt to walk through the downtrodden bus at the rush hour. It was the first day of my official journey, and an idea to become a suicide naturally seemed unpromising. Alex, having analyzed the situation, found the flask.
   - Hey, who asked for tea?
   - Me!
   - Come here!
   - We are two!
   - We are still more! - I heard laughing and hit my knee against something hard. Alex went next to me.
   - Light the match! - 3-4 lighters were the answer.
   Soon eyes got used to the darkness and I looked about. 4 men were sitting near the metal stove. I held out my hand:
   - Sergei!
   There appeared to sit two namesakes of mine, and two namesakes of my friend Alex. The company promised to be curious. Gena turned out to be platoon-head and he was looking for the berths now. After someone used the lighter, plastic crumpled glass appeared. It looked so miserable, that I even felt pain, as if I looked at the whole Russia - as crumpled, as the glass.
   - Any water?
   - Water?! - The reaction reminded Gena"s one, when he had heard the question about tea.
   - Hereabout. But where exactly...And what for?
   - I have some... - Alex didn"t finished.
   - Alcohol! - Already familiar voice rang out behind his back.
   - Well... Alcohol later. Today our refreshments. Hey, light it!
   The candle flashed up, and burned in a calm little light. At the moment, we could observe our new company.
   The man whose name was Gena said:
   - The second platoon has ten free beds. - His commanding voice meant he wasn"t addressing us.
   I looked attentively...I"ll die some day. I won"t probably meet paradise. But I didn"t expect to meet such muzzles even after death. The muzzles caught my embarrassment and started giggling. One of the devils fished out the bottle of vodka, which poured the next moment into dirty palms. Soon after, the muzzles transformed to the common though bearded men faces.
   - To hell with you! Light your cigarettes somewhere else!
   Slack protests followed. Nevertheless, everybody giggled and pushed each other with the elbows.
   - Gas-main was blown up. No gas for a week or so. No heat...But we adapted. Use the stove with rags, damped in lubricant. Not bad, in general, though smoking hard. Only habits remained the same!
   At the time our namesakes fished out the second bottle. We drank it in turn for our acquaintance, eating something from the plastic packet. When vodka came to its" end, ex-devils went away silently. Gena accompanied us and then went away too. Putting myself to bed I remembered about the tea, but it was too late.
   For the second time I met him in four days, as well accidentally. I recognized him by his voice. He sat with his back against the wall, having put the tommy gun on the knees and talking something through the communicator. I came up, sat on the dirty tire and pronounced politely:
   - Someone promised the tea...
   - And someone - alcohol. - He parried, looking askance.
   We kept silence. Then he asked:
   - Are you going too?
   I nodded.
   - My tea, your alcohol when back.
   - Done!
   He helped me to stand up.
   We"re back. We hadn"t even been taken under fire. Just to be witty, we didn"t ask for...Neither alcohol, nor tea that day. Some vapid days more.
   - So how"s your alcohol?
   - The same with tea...
   - We managed not at the beginning. Let"s not worry about now.
   - No problem. But let the custom to offer stay alive...
   He laughed:
   - Are you going too?
   - Yeah...
   We"re back again. One day more. I was left at the base. The same with Gena. We"ve lost seven that day. 3 wounded. The mine with directed explosion. Splinters let 4 men die immediately. Their bodies blocked the machine-gun turret. Wounded gunner was shot by snipers. 2 men stayed alive a bit longer. 40 minutes for the first. The seconds - till the evening.
   We went the next day. We didn"t laugh asking each other about the tea and alcohol, and when back - seemed to forget our agreement.
   He found me himself:
   - Hey! We are changing in 2 days. No time tomorrow. It"s high time to alter the tradition.
   We sat at the hospital, drinking and singing. There were 8 of us. Everybody had experienced a lot, but we all listened to him. He turned out to cope with guitar well and to have a good voice. We sang much. We drank much. After vodka, alcohol from Alex"s flask and brandy we felt not bat. Someone brought 2 tea-pots and sat with us.
   - So...did I keep my word? - Gena turned to me, but I didn"t manage to answer. He stood up and gathered everybody"s attention.
   - Here are the witnesses...I wrote this song for him. - He looked at me and started:
   Fire"s smoke and that tart smell.
   Simmering tea in a mess-tin.
   No life. No death, as well.
   The tea is the only thing.
   We forget ourselves due to war,
   Playing guitars, playing wine.
   Skirmish. The day after that will be more.
   But today still the sun has to shine.
   No fear against the bombs.
   No feeling of the near end.
   That minute could be the last.
   Live it as it is meant.
   We all have to endure a lot. Less for them. They go away tomorrow. More for us. They had already gone through what we should still go. He went with his detachment - safe and sound. We left.
   Then, we went away as well shaking new comers" hands. Some men will never shake their hands. Their graves are scattered along the Russia - from Moscow to the remotest villages. They were buried in different ways. Someone - under thrice-repeated salvo and with military honours. Someone - only under relations" lamenting, bride"s crying or priest"s muttering. Someone is still being waited for, with the last hope and belief.
   I"ll meet him someday, come up to and ask:
   - What about the tea?
   And he"ll certainly parry. No doubt. Provided, if only he won"t get into some other war.
   February-April 2000
   Author: Alexey Muratov
   Translated by: Denis Merzlov

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