The story of Sasha Bichukov should be told separately. From my point of view, he was one of those boys who is not capable of meanness. To confirm this, here is the following case.

A Failure to Endure

In elementary school, we were not recommended to go to the toilet during the lessons, especially if there were inspectors at the lesson. When there was a break, we ran. However, there were girls who held out their hand and asked to go to the toilet no matter what. Anna Vasilievna wrote notes about them in the diary, and even punished them; we repeatedly saw them during the class hour standing in the corner with raised hands.

Among the boys, asking to go to the toilet was considered shameful. I once suffered because of this. The reason for this, I think, was raspberry syrup, which we bought in exchange for an empty bottle we found. Each of us, as I said, had a mining flask. The barmaid meticulously examined the bottle brought to her and evenly poured syrup into our flasks. In the mine department, we filled the flasks with soda. Usually, the boys did this after school, but the wonderful syrup provoked me to drink water during breaks, and by the beginning of the last lesson, my flask was already empty.

Once four lessons were over, I aimed headlong to rush to the toilet, when suddenly, the unforgettable Anna Vasilievna announced that it would be a class hour, and did not let us go home. The lesson was the last, and in order to hold the event as quickly as possible, she ignored the break and immediately began the sermon on strict discipline.

My desire to go to the toilet had already appeared, and for me, it was a blow below the waist. But then my torment began to intensify even more, because Anna Vasilyevna always finished classroom hours by checking the diaries.

First of all, she let excellent students and students who had no comments go free. Thanks to my mother’s efforts, I didn’t belong to such an esteemed class, so I not only received a diary entry about bad behavior, but also listened to the teacher’s notation that my mother would be upset again.

Finally, the educational procedure was completed. I rushed to the toilet, but this was probably a fatal mistake, the last blob overflowing my cask; it was necessary to move smoothly, but my disgusting sprout could not stand the pressure, the floodgates opened, and nasty liquid began to flow down my leg, appearing through my trousers and filling my boot.

The schoolyard, fortunately for me, was empty; the older students had another lesson, the younger ones went home, and only my friend Sashka Bichukov was sitting on the bench, waiting for me to go home together.

Of course, he noticed a treacherous trace of fluid on my trousers, and asked what it was. Lying did not make sense, and I told everything as it was. Sasha burst out laughing. But never, to anyone and under no circumstances, did he tell anyone my shame.


Sasha lived with his parents in a barrack. This wide building occupied two portions of land and immediately went to two streets, Novotroitskaya and Svyazistov. It was built before the war for migrants arriving to restore nearby mines. During the occupation, the Germans adapted it for a prisoner of war camp, which they also tried to force to rebuild the mine.

After the liberation of the area from the occupiers, the building was again adapted as a hostel. However, lonely single miners became less and less, and the barrack began to mutate into a hostel for families awaiting relocation to comfortable housing. Such was the Bichukov family.

The barrack was located next to the compound of my grandfather and grandmother, and I had the opportunity to observe the life of its inhabitants.

The Bichukov Family

Sasha’s family was quiet and calm. They did not take part in boozing and did not arrange them themselves. The elder Bichukov worked at the mine as a mining foreman, while his mother taught elementary students. My friend was an inconspicuous, quiet boy, and even, strangely, did not play hole-hole with us. He did not take part in the games of children from the barrack. He was not autistic; Sasha just somehow got lost in the company of lively peers and modestly stepped aside.

But Sasha and his father had one very remarkable hobby: shooting. The Bichukovs had an air rifle. On weekends and holidays, the elder Bichukov took it and went to the forest landing with his son, where, choosing a suitable meadow, he self-forgetfully indulged himself to shooting and taught his son. The Bichukovs did not allow outsiders into their close circle.

Perhaps if the senior Bichukov could step over his amateur hobby and help his son take part in competitions, then the younger Bichukov would have turned out to be a high-class shooter, but their hobby did not extend beyond the forest belt, and Sasha not was able to become an athlete-shooter.


In the houses where pigs are raised, rats usually appear.

In one of the collective farms of the Voronezh region, rodents became a disaster. They pushed milk pigs away from their mother’s nipples, and when the suckers began to look for them, the rats slipped their muzzles and bit off the tender pig’s tongues. The swine cubs died, the birth of the livestock ceased, and to control the pests, peasants had to resort to the help of the army, which used chemical warfare substances. The enemy was defeated, but the collective farmers were shocked.

My grandmother always preferred homemade sausage instead of bought sausage and therefore periodically fed a piglet. He was beaten by his uncle for his vacation, and after graduation, he went on vacation. Looking at the grandmother, the neighbor was also able to fatten the piglets. Therefore, it is not surprising that rats have appeared in the household.

Of course, both we and the neighbor kept cats. My grandmother had as many as two: one cat-man and one cat-woman. The cat-man was a lazy idler, lying around all day in the summer kitchen, inhaling the smells of cooked food and begging for handouts. But the cat-woman turned out to be a real hunter. And in the morning, we often found in the middle of the courtyard one or two specimens of the mice or rats she had caught. My grandfather threw them into the bin, and the next morning, the cat brought new prey.

However, rats bred despite the cat’s hunting. I climbed up to the barn, which overlooked the backyard, and lying on a warm roofing material, I watched from above how the cat was tracking down her prey. But this rarely happened. More often, rats walked around the garden, and at the slightest danger, they disappeared among the numerous holes and cracks in the foundation of the barn.

My grandfather’s attempts to lay rat holes were unsuccessful; they gnawed them again. I also tried to fight with the rodents. The slingshot I made easily broke a glass bottle, and, imagining myself to be Dersu Uzala, went hunting. But it was not there! To hit these creatures from afar was beyond the weak accuracy of my weapons, they did not let me get close; my slightest stirring on the roof of the barn instantly led them to flee.

I already despaired, but the case helped. Grandma asked me to bring water. I grabbed a bucket and rushed to the column. To my surprise, there was a line, and Sasha Bichukov was the last in it. We got into a conversation and he asked what I was doing on the roof of the barn. I do not like to lie, and I had to tell him about rats, a cat, and a slingshot. He laughed and offered to take a walk after we take the water home. I gladly agreed.

We went to the forest belt near the railway. Protarahtel passenger diesel train. Sasha conspiratorially looked into my eyes and, taking out a handful of pneumatic bullets from his pocket, handed them to me. I had never seen such things. They had pointed cone-shaped heads and long, round, hollow-tail stabilizers.

“We do it ourselves,” said my friend. “Dad made a machine. We melt lead and stamp. Tomorrow morning, he will leave for work, and my mother will go to school. I will take a rifle and, through the garden, I will go to you so that no one will see. We will hunt.”

We went home.

The next day, my vacation blossomed with new entertainment. We climbed the barn, loaded the rifle, and lay for hours waiting for the prey. To keep the barrel of the rifle from trembling, we made an adaptation for it like legs, and on the first day of the hunt, we were visited by luck. A hefty rat got a bullet that hit her right in the eye. When we got down from the barn, she fought in agony. I took the axe with which my grandfather chopped wood and hit her on the back. The rat become quiet.

Days went by. We learned the basics of successful rodent hunting. It turned out that it was necessary to shoot them in the head. Shooting the body did not have much effect; the rats ran away, leaving a plentiful trail of urine. A few days after this, rats stopped appear. Hitting rats in the head led them to a state of fainting; they fell on their back and began to jerk their paws funnily. The only thing after that was to quickly jump from the barn and finish off the victim with an axe. If we were slow, the rat came to its senses and ran away. The hunt continued.

The Hen

But one day, a foreign hen wandered into the garden. The trusting bird calmly pecked worms, insects, grains—all that the village backyards are rich in—and did not suspect that it was watched by two pairs of sharp-sighted eyes and the steel hole of a blued trunk. Sasha looked at me, I nodded my head, and the first shot knocked the hen down to the ground. While I was descending from the barn, Sasha managed to put a second bullet into the head of the bird. She was still fluttering when I, flaunting in front of a friend, took an ax and chopped off her head, just like my grandmother did with her hens, which I saw many times.

Sasha ran and carried the rifle home; we wrapped the hen in a rag and went into the forest belt.

“We will be like the Indians!” said my friend.

“We will fry her at the stake,” I added.

At that time, the feature film The Leader of the Redskins, based on the story of O. Henry, was broadcast on cinemas and on television in the U.S.S.R. Remarkable Soviet actors Georgy Vitsin and Aleksey Smirnov amazingly played unfortunate gangsters who tried to kidnap a child and get a ransom for him. But everyone was surpassed by Sergei Tikhonov, who played a little prankster. He became the idol of Soviet children, so much so that for a while we stopped playing war and began to play “Indians and Palefaces,” hitherto unknown to us.

The adult fate of a small artist was tragically formed. The masters did not accept him into their society. Sergei Tikhonov became addicted to horse racing and began to spend all his money. As often happens where excitement rules, something bad happens. An unknown man pushed Serge under a tram, and he died.

I have repeatedly seen how my grandmother plucked slaughtered chickens, and volunteered to do it myself. Sasha went to collect brushwood, and we found ourselves caught up in this occupation by the hen proprietress.

I’m still wondering how she was able to track us down so quickly. We carried a chicken wrapped in a rag. We didn’t come across oncoming passersby. We delved into the very jungle of forest belt. We didn’t even have time to make a fire. Most likely, one of the barrack’s boys ratted us out.

The old woman flew out of the bushes like a fury, and with one hand, she grabbed me, with the other, the chicken, and dragged me to my execution. Sasha, who heard noise and fuss, hid in the vegetation and could not help me with anything. And how would he help if the victim, the intruder, and the violation were present, and the culprit was known. So we went to the grandmother’s house, in front of the old woman with a hen in one hand and me in the other. From behind, periodically peeking from behind the bushes, Sasha sneaked.

The lamentations of the old woman were heard from afar, and my grandmother met us at the gate. Her gaze did not bode well. We walked along the path to the courtyard. The woman plopped the chicken carcass on the table, and, wailing, began to tell how she found me when I was plucking her hen. I had nothing to say to her, and I couldn’t say anything even if I wanted to, since she used the old bazaar method: shouting louder than the opponent. My grandmother was silent, too. The old woman either ran out of steam, or felt like a winner in the scandal, but she suddenly became quiet, and, recomposing herself, said to my grandmother: “In general, Petrovna, you give me five rubles for a hen.” My grandmother did not expect it.

The cry of two women is not the cry of one woman. The fence was surrounded by barracks onlookers, a crowd of neighbors gathered on the street. The dispute reached its climax and attracted the attention of a police officer who passed by accidentally.

I knew him. He went to deal with the boys after the Victory’s torn-off rear axle and he asked us about the cut ball. He talked then with me. The police officer recognized me.

He went into the courtyard and looked around with a stern look. The victim tried to resume her crying, but the policeman yanked her and she fell silent. The policeman nodded to the grandmother on the stool; she brushed off the dust from him and pushed him to the table. The policeman sat at the table, putting a field bag and elbows on it, looked at the mistress of the chicken, and said:

“Tell me what happened!”

The woman perked up and started saying that I stole the hen, killed it, and took it to the forest to fry and eat it. The policeman listened attentively to her, assented, and when she was silent, he asked her to clarify how the theft took place. The woman fell silent, as if she stumbled.

“A teenager climbed into your yard?”

The woman shook her head in the negative.

“Into the barn? To the chicken coop?”

“No, he stole it in his garden…” she tried to bring the conversation back to her comfortable direction.

“How can you steal in your garden?” The policeman was surprised. “Everything in my garden is mine. How can I steal from myself?”

“The hen is mine. It wandered to them.”

“Wandered around? How did the hen wander?” asked the policeman. “She wandered around unattended?”

“Yes…” the old woman answered slowly.

“And what was she doing there?”

“I don’t know…” The old woman frowned and stopped looking at the policeman.

Everyone knows what chickens do in other people’s gardens. Her gaze began to wander around, like a guilty schoolboy.

“So you don’t know what the chicken was doing in the Korovins’ garden? What have you to say me, adolescent?” The district officer looked at me. “Tell me how you stole the chicken!”

I felt a saving thread thrown to me by a policeman, and, denying, answered:

“I didn’t steal a chicken! She wandered into the garden herself and began to peck seedlings!”

“Ah, fuck your chicken mother!” exclaimed the grandfather. “So that’s why everything grows so bad there!”

He turned and walked quickly into the backyard.

“Why didn’t you drive her away?” continued the policeman.

“And how would I drive her away? If I started chasing her, I’ll trample everything in the garden. So I decided to scare her with a slingshot. I shot at her and accidentally hit her in the head. She fell down. I got scared and decided to hide it.”

“Why did you chop off her head?”

“My grandma always does it. I have seen her.”

“Does she cut heads off other people’s hens?” The policeman smirked. Everyone began laughing.

“No, to our hens,” I muttered.

“And where did you hide the severed head?” asked the policeman. Apparently, he wanted to examine her.

I knew that he could not find a trace of a pebble on it, but he could find a bullet from an air rifle. But at this time, a cat came out onto the porch of the summer kitchen. It was a clue; it was my salvation.

“I gave it to the dog,” Sharik peacefully slept near his booth, enjoying the August day, not suspecting that I was making him an accomplice in the incident.

The policeman cast a fleeting glance at the dog and realized that he could not to see the chicken head.

“Who can confirm that it was so?” The district policeman turned to me again.

“I AM! I can confirm.” From the fence came the voice of my friend Bichukov.”

“Come on, come here, boy!” the policeman called Sasha. “And you, Serge, bring a slingshot here.”

The policeman listened carefully to my friend, examined the slingshot, and put it in his field bag:

“Well, everything is clear to me. You, boy, defended your garden and killed someone else’s chicken, which caused damage to your grandmother and grandfather,” he told me.

“Your chicken has committed the damage of crops in a strange garden.” The policeman had already turned to the woman. “Coordinate the amount of damage with the victims.” He pointed at my grandmother and grandfather. “If you make mutual claims to each other, I draw up a protocol and we go to the court. But you still have to pay a fee. It may be more than the amount of damages. If you conclude an agreement, I will not draw up a protocol. Make peace and go home. How is that?”

“Make peace, make peace!” cried my grandmother and the old woman.

The mistress of the hen grabbed the carcass and rushed off the courtyard. The onlookers and spectators began to disperse. The policeman wiped his sweaty forehead with a hanky and said: “It’s a bit hot…is there a cold drink?”

My grandma brought a large mug of cool cherry tincture to the policeman, and my grandfather treated him with a cigarette. The district policeman drank, lit a cigarette, and went about his service.


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…
  4. Chapter 3: Cognizing Life
  5. Chapter 4: Football as it Is