Sadist Uncle Zhora

The Crime

For the first time, I faced the most severe flogging of a child during the first summer school holidays; this happened with the family of my friend Mishka Shchipanovsky. Our carefree vacation was coming to an end, Mishka was a year younger than me and was preparing to study in first grade; I, as a veteran, instructed him.

Suddenly, Mishkina’s parents went to the village to help relatives gather the crops, leaving Mishka in the care of an old grandmother.

We enjoyed the freedom granted to us. Usually, after breakfast, I went to his house, and we set off for the thickets, the forest belt separating the village from the railway.

There was a great expanse—we could play hide and seek, climb trees, throw gravel at the trains passing by, cut whistles from hazel—but there is little to be found in a crazy boy’s head. This went on the first, second, and third day, but once, when I came to him, Mishka put a finger to his lips and signaled me to be silent.

Here it is necessary to explain: Mishka’s father, Uncle Zhora, was a heavy smoker. Filter cigarettes were rare and expensive then, so Mishka’s father usually bought a box of Pamirs and kept it in a wardrobe, taking packs as needed. It was the packaging, not the block, the box, in which there were at least 100 packs. And Mishka found this packaging and opened it. Taking a pack of cigarettes out, he turned it over, looking at it from all sides, sniffed it, handed it to me, and took out another one.

What he wanted, I understood without words. We grabbed a box of matches and set off to the thickets. How do boys of seven and eight years old who do not know how to smoke smoke? They collect smoke in the mouth and, without drawing it into the lungs, release a thin stream into the atmosphere. Two packs were enough for us in less than half-an-hour. We did not understand the charm of smoking, and after lunch, we swiped two more packs. By the end of the week, the box of cigarettes was empty.

The Punishment

That day, I came to Mishka like usual, after breakfast. His parents had to return from the village the day before. My friend and I were going to go for a walk again. I called out for him, but no one answered me. Peering into the courtyard, I saw a huge castle on the front door of Mishka’s house. This upset me; I turned around and was about to leave when I heard a whistle. Looking around, I found that a window had opened in the house, and Mishka whistled from it.

The Finnish houses in which we lived were one-story, had large windows, and to get through them into the room for a boy of primary school age was a trifle. Within seconds, I was in Mishka’s apartment.

He answered categorically “no” to my offer to go for a walk and explained the reason: he had been punished. Dad flogged him. And Mishka, not waiting for my request, turned his back to me, innocently pulled off his pants, and showed me his ass.

Horror seized me. These were not the cyanotic stripes or the purple scars that a belt or twig leaves on a youngster’s bum. Mishka’s ass was completely black, like the body of an African in a photograph in an illustrated magazine.

“How can you sit down?” I stammered involuntarily.

“I don’t,” Mishka answered. “I lay down.”

And he grunted, lowering his body, stomach-first, onto the sofa.

Apples with Good Filling

Mother didn’t flog me for this trick. Uncle Vitya, my mother’s brother, intervened. He came for the summer holidays, and I did not go a step away from my idol. The neighbor boy, Vitka Lysenko, also often came to us.

Grandfather Korovin had a bicycle on which he went to work. But that day, my grandfather went on foot, leaving it for his son. I was already anticipating how we would go with my uncle on pond, but the arrival of Vitka Lysenko mixed up my plans. After chatting a little about that, about this, Vitka suggested that my uncle go to the pond of the 29th mine. This event promised them a double pleasure: swimming in the pond and picking apples in the nearby collective farm garden. White filling apples were excellent; all the boys who went there to swim tried to pick them. But two reasons prevented them from doing this regularly: the pond was very far away, and the garden was patrolled by a guard.

Gradually, over the years, the pond became shallow, overgrown, and dried up, the apple trees grew old, ceased to bear fruit; they were uprooted and the land was plowed for the field. But then there was a wonderful pond with clean warm water and a wonderful garden with apple trees of the “white filling” variety.

Uncle, student, and schoolboy Lysenko took the bicycle out of Grandfather’s barn, checked the pressure in the wheels, and even pumped them up so as not to chew up the tires under a double load, saddled the two-wheeled horse, and left. It was out of the question to take me as a third passenger; to pedal that far, as the boys said, “you will sweat to tumble.” I was left alone in longing and sadness. But my sad state did not last long.

Before my uncle and Vitka disappeared around the bend to the highway, my friend Mishka Shchipanovsky looked into the yard. He was cheerful and carefree and asked me why I was upset. I laid out everything, as for spirit. Mishka shrugged and offered to ride with me on his father’s bike. I was literally thrown into the air.

Mishka’s father’s bike was one of the best on the street. The man regularly lubricated it, pulled up the spokes and chains, checked the tires’ pressure. Sometimes, Uncle Zhora took out a bicycle and let Mishka ride it. It was necessary to see the happy face of my friend at that moment. But Uncle Zhora was harsh, and for riding a bike without permission, Mishka could face severe punishment. I told this to my friend, but he only waved it off; Dad was at work, he would not return soon. Mishka brought the bike out into the street; we saddled it and rushed in pursuit.

Despite the fact that the bike had a good construction, it was not possible to go at top speed. An adult bike is difficult for a child to handle, and Mishka was not a feather. I pedaled as fast as I could. We drove along the belt of trees, got out on the highway, crossed the intersection, rolled along the railway, and turned towards the pond near the cemetery. It seemed that we would overtake my uncle and Vitka, especially since the bicycle with them was already looming ahead.

Vitka’s shirt was flapping in the oncoming breeze, and we were guided by it like a sail of a front-going ship. But for some reason, they rushed past the pond and drove on—towards the deepest coal mine in the world—the mine named after academician Skochinsky. We were puzzled by this, but there was nothing left to do but to continue this pursuit. We were even more puzzled that, turning towards the Skochinsky mine, my uncle and Vitka rushed further, towards the Abakumov mine.

My strength was running out. I lost hope of catching up with them and, without any enthusiasm, continued to pedal. Sometimes, it seemed to me that I was not pedaling, but the pedals were moving my legs. Probably in those moments, a great cyclist died inside of me. But when we entered the village of the Abakumov mine, I increased our efforts, and we began to catch up with Uncle and Vitka; they slowed down at first, and then stopped altogether when they entered the local market. Mishka and I flew close to them and almost screamed in chagrin; it was not them. The bike we were chasing was not Vitka’s. It’s just that his shirt was exactly like Vitka’s. And the boy sitting on his frame was not familiar to us.

Heartbroken, we sat down on a bench by the empty counter and began to think what to do next. Undoubtedly, one should immediately get out of here.

Fights between teenagers from different mine villages were not uncommon, sometimes ending in killings. Both the older boys and the local adult bully could easily take a bicycle away from us. And Uncle Zhora could not have done anything even with his fists and tattoos; he was nobody in a strange village. For Mishka, this did not mean just a flogging, but reprisals like the one he had earned over the cigarettes.

There was no time to waste. We piled onto the bike again and rolled back. But this time, I was in no hurry. We drove past the Skochinsky mine passage and turned onto Biryuzov Street. The asphalt was in good condition; we rolled smoothly and slowly to the pond.

There were a lot of people on the beach. We went along the road, looking at vacationers. I saw a familiar bicycle; Mishka and I went up to him, silently laid down our own, and sat down on the grass. Uncle and Vitka looked around and were stupefied:

“How did you end up here?”

Eight- and nine-year-old boys could easily become victims of hooligans or, not knowing the rules of the road for vehicles, get hit by a car. We were lucky. We were safe and sound.

“We arrived,” Mishka and I simultaneously exhaled.

It saved us. I had no strength for the return trip. Vitka went to the garden and brought a full T-shirt of apples. We all dug into the juicy, tight fruits with pleasure. After swimming in the pond for a couple of hours and sunbathing, we drove home. Vitka put Mishka on his father’s bike, and they quickly drove forward. My uncle and I were in no hurry. He talked to me as an equal. I reveled in happiness. We returned to the village.

I saw my mother as soon as we drove into our street. She stood near the gate and held a twig in her hands.

“You, you fool, where have you been?” The tone of her voice and the absence of strangers nearby did not bode well for me. I lost my courage.

“What are you speaking of, Zina?” my uncle calmly besieged his sister. “He went with me to the pond of the 29th mine. I told our mother. Didn’t she tell you?”

At the time, my grandmother went out of the courtyard along the path and almost froze from Uncle’s cunning. But the grandmother forgave everything to her beloved son and, sympathetically nodding her head, cried out:

“Oh, I’m old, I forgot completely. The son said, ‘We’re going to the pond.’ But I forgot.”

There was nothing to beat me for, and the reprisal did not take place.


For all installments from In the Shadow of the Belt, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Introduction
  2. Chapter 1: Early Childhood
  3. Chapter 2: School? This is Just the Beginning, Baby…