Chemistry Lesson One

Our classroom was at the end of the corridor opposite the gym door. Schoolchildren freed from physical education were required to attend the lesson. However, they sometimes managed to get out of the gym, and they settled on the windowsill near the window. When their boom became excessive, the teacher looked out into the corridor and made a remark. “Sicks” fell silent or left.

That day, howls and cries almost instantly reached extraordinary strength. The teacher was already about to take a step towards the door, when she herself suddenly burst open, and a completely naked pupil was pushed into our class from junior class. Following him flew his sneakers and clothes. The kid grabbed them, covered the genitals with one and the gap between the buttocks with the other, and ran into the corridor. The class burst into laughter. The teacher closed the door. The lesson continued.

Chemistry Lesson Two

In general, I loved chemistry. It was interesting to learn how the substances are arranged, to conduct experiments with them. I found the formulas confusing; they were long, complex, and loosely connected, they did not fit into my brain, and they caused bewilderment. But all kinds of experiments with reagents were a pleasure, especially when they caused smoke and boiled solutions.

So it was that time. I poured some three solutions into the flask, put it on the spirit lamp, and set fire to the wick. The liquid began to change color from blue to pink. I took a pinch of ground carbide from the mortar, which Genka and I secretly brought from the construction site, and threw it into a color-changing solution. It instantly began to boil, foam appeared, and a soft cotton sounded. Foam flew out of the retort and flowed on the table.

“Clause, stop it!” came the voice of the teacher. “Well, give me your diary.”

I realized that I would receive a note with a comment, and there would be a scandal at home. I took my time, hoping that the lesson would end and I could slip away. I pulled out a blotter from a chemistry notebook and began to carefully wipe the foam-covered table and textbook.

“Clause, don’t waste time! You’ll receive a comment anyway.” I realized that the notes could not be avoided, put the blotter back in the notebook, took the diary, and headed for the teacher’s desk.

But my faithful friend Mordin helped me out. He took a piece of ammonite brought by one of the classmates, laid it on the anvil, and slammed it with a hammer. There was a deafening clap; the girls squealed and jumped from their seats. The chemist teacher jumped up with them. Fascinated by my mistake, she missed the offense of my friend and swept around the class, trying to figure out who did this and what happened. The bell rang, I waited for the teacher to turn her back to me, grabbed a briefcase, and ran out of class.

We had two chemistry lessons per week. In the next lesson, the teacher did not remember my violation. I calmly pulled a textbook and notebook out of my bag and began to examine the test tubes on the table. Due to the unusual end of the previous lesson, the teacher did not manage to give us a few formulas for recording and, wanting to catch up, demanded to open the notebooks and pick up the pens. I pulled out a fountain pen, removed the cap from it, and opened my chemistry notebook. The sight of the opened notebook caused me surprise; the blotter with which I had wiped the foam had dried up and turned into a white powder resembling flour. I poured it in a clean saucer intended for reagents, and with passion, I began to wait for a convenient moment to experiment with it.

Time passed slowly, someone answered at the blackboard, and the long-awaited moment did not come. I decided to get to know the powder better, took a small pinch, and sniffed. At that very moment, the strongest sneeze hit me. Feeling that it was not the last, I tried to hold my nose in my hand, but the sneeze turned out to be stronger than me and, moreover, reminded me of the sound of the gases emitted during flatulence.

My classmates laughed. I sneezed a third time. Mordin began to whisper to ask what had happened to me. I poured him a pinch of powder and pointed to my nose. After a second, we sneezed together. After a couple of minutes, all the boys of our class sneezed. The lesson was disrupted.

The teacher ran for the head teacher and class teacher. They demanded to open the windows and ventilate the class. An incoming nurse called an ambulance, and a doctor arrived to poke a laryngoscope in our noses, trying to discern what was happening in our entrails. No one had a fever. Nothing could be found.

The boys were reinforced with new portions of the “potion.” The sneeze gradually moved on to the next lesson. The chemist teacher remembered that I was the first to start sneezing. At home, I got a whopping thrashing.

White Flares

In the late 60’s in the Donbass came a fashion for flared pants. Such a style was not new. My father, returning from military service as a senior sailor, according to the stories of my mother and aunt, had a flare of incredible size and ground the pavement with them. However, there were few who wanted to imitate sailors.

The fashion had taken a slightly different turn. Most often, young men preferred a small flare, which was emphasized by smoothed, clear arrows. However, there were eccentrics who maximally narrowed the trousers in the knees and maximally expanded them below, almost completely hiding the feet. Shoes with long pointed toes sewn to order completed such a squeak of fashion. Some of the mods went further: they spread their flares at the seams below the knee and inserted wedges of colorful chintz fabric there. Decorative chains imitating fasteners of diverging flares were especially chic.

Goga struck everyone: he inserted garlands from small bulbs painted with multi-colored zapon-varnish into chintz sections and powered them from the battery, which he placed in the back pocket. But that was not all, either. Along the edges and in the middle of the chains, he tied small bells, which fishermen use to signal fish biting. In the dance twilight, the radiantly-ringing Goga made a splash, and a lot of boys wished to look like him.

I must say that at the end of the institute, Vovka stopped his couture in fashion and, becoming a highly qualified engineer, preferred regular trousers and a jumper to all outfits. I met him twice, in Donetsk, when I needed to find scarce parts for repairing my parents’ TVs. He worked in the Donetsk television center and, without any hassle, brought the required radio tubes. Then he left as the chief engineer at a television factory in Lviv, but in my memory he remained a skinny guy, imposingly smoking a cigarette with his radiantly-ringing flares.

I liked the flared trousers of a different style: white, with four horizontal pockets, the cuts of which were edged with black fabric. Two larger pockets were usually located horizontally in front, and two smaller ones were also horizontally behind. I saw such trousers at one of the Vitka’s friends and fell ill with them. I could not ask for money from my mother to sew such trousers, if only because I knew that if she found out about such a fashionable dream of mine, she would probably forbid it.

So I went the other way. By that time, my height exceeded 190 centimeters, and my mother, desperate to look for clothes in stores, began to order me at a nearby atelier, where the parent of one of her students worked. The woman favorably went to meet us; she held, if necessary, a solid, inexpensive fabric and grabbed divinely for sewing. The problem was that the white fabric that I wanted was very expensive. It was unusually dense with an insert of slightly glittering synthetic threads. I asked the dressmaker to figure out what my dream would cost me, figured out how much I could get from my mother for sewing ordinary trousers, and began to collect the necessary difference. It was not easy to do this. My mother still tightly controlled my “income-leaving,” and I could not get money in the most accessible way: collecting coal. Having discovered me in this occupation, my mother would probably have attended to where I was hiding the money and tried, right up to the scandal, to withdraw it from me. I did not doubt it.

I was content with handing over randomly found bottles. Although my path between the school and the house lay through the park and past the beer hall, this route did not bring me much income. Either the rushing drinkers there handed over the bottles themselves, or my competitors were ahead of me, snooping around there during the big break, skipping classes and just running ahead of me.

Spring turned into summer, and summer into August, but there was still not enough of the treasured amount. Salvation came in the person of my mother’s brother, who was demobilized from the army, a pilot of naval aviation. He arrived, so brave, and we went with him for a walk in the park.

Several bottles of beer and vodka lay in a clearing next to the newspaper. Everything said that the feast was over. I figured there were bottles per ruble, if not more. For me, it was wealth. I rushed to the abandoned bottles and briskly hid them in the thick of distant bushes to pick up later. I did not want to defile my walk with my uncle with empty bottles. Uncle watched in surprise at my actions and, when I returned, asked why I had hidden the bottles. I had no reason to hide anything from him, and I told everything as it is. Uncle laughed, took me by the elbow, and led me to the studio.

He paid for the tailoring of these magnificent trousers and even gave them a little “tip” to be sewn as quickly as possible. Three days later, the new thing was ready. We went with him to pick up the product. Dressmakers, as if enchanted, looked at my handsome uncle, and I, as enchanted, looked at my new trousers.

We had come to our home. I put on the new thing. The pants fit perfectly. None of my classmates had these. My mother came from the summer kitchen, but instead of gratitude, insults poured against the uncle, and reproaches came to mine that I had abandoned my studies and did not help her around the house. It all ended up that my uncle went home to Grandmother, and the parent took away my pants and hid them somewhere.

Summer had come to an end. Autumn began, and days of study began. I could not wait to boast of a new thing in front of my classmates. I rummaged through both the closets and the chest of drawers in which my mother kept things and found the trousers. Mother went to work much earlier than me. I pulled out my trousers, put them on, and looked at myself in the mirror. Stuffed with synthetics, the pants retained the ironing that the atelier had given them. I picked up a bag of textbooks and headed to school.

The Donetsk sun in September still keeps the rays of summer. I proudly sliced along the sidewalk along the two-story houses of our village, gladly catching the eyes of passers-by women and schoolgirls. Glare played on the synthetics of my white trousers and a smile played on my lips. I entered the classroom and my friends surrounded me in a semicircle, looking at the new thing and admiring it.

The bell rang, and we rushed to our places. The first lesson was in Russian literature, and the head teacher was a very serious and strict lady. She went into class and we got up. It must be warned that my place, despite my almost two-meter height, was on the first desk on the right side and in the right lane: the one closest to the door. When I got up, I blocked the incoming teacher’s class overview, which took a few seconds and allowed some negligent classmates to take places and lay out textbooks. But this time, it happened differently. As soon as she entered the classroom, the teacher froze and stared at my pants. Her confusion lasted a few seconds, then she went to her desk and told me to go out to the board. I obeyed without question.

Educational notation took several minutes, after which I was sent home to put myself in order. School rules required wearing dark trousers, black or blue. Of course, I knew about this, but the teachers looked through the fingers to observe the school uniform; the main thing is that the clothes should not be colorful. I did not think that white trousers could cause such a rejection. I became upset and annoyed, and I trudged home bitterly in my chest.

The punishment came after dinner. A furious mother rushed about the apartment, belching curses at me and my uncle’s address, demanded that I confess that I had put on white trousers specifically to disgrace her and disrupt the lesson.

The next day, I came to school in uniform: a white shirt, black pants, and a Komsomol badge. But, entering the classroom, I was numb: almost all the boys were in white trousers. A stunned teacher sent the head of the class for the head teacher. She came, glowing with severity, and sent the boys to change their clothes. After that, she looked into my eyes and said: “See what you have done!”

At home, a second scandal awaited me. I had not seen more of my new white trousers. I went to enter the academy in school uniforms, old and scanty, in which I finished tenth grade.


My parents pathologically did not want to give me and my brother the keys to the apartment. What Mother was afraid of was completely incomprehensible; there was no money in her. I had lessons in the first shift, my mother had them in the first and second. I went up to her and asked for a key. Mother walked into the teacher’s room and poked around in her shopping bag for a long time. There could be two outcomes: either she found and gave me the key, or went out without it. In response to my requests to repeat the search, an evil whisper was heard: “You, long bastard, will you teach me? I’ll show you at home ‘look again!’” In full voice with strangers, my mother never scolded me, and she pronounced the threat of violence with a smile so that others would think she was telling me something pleasant. Knowing that any threat from my mother’s side can always materialize, I turned around and walked home. Two possible outcomes were also waiting for me there: either the key was under the rug and I got into the apartment, or there was no key, which happened more often, and I had to return to school and again ask my mother to look for the key. In this case, she was not nervous, and she found the key.

After school, my brother stayed for an extra day and returned home later than me. But if for some reason I was delayed, then this situation also happened to him.

My mother parried my request to give me and brother a key with an educational tirade that fools cannot be trusted with keys, since they lose them. The attempt to insist on this was interrupted by the threat of reprisal.

My aunt’s husband ruined the situation, about whom I once told him. When Mother, Aunt, and sister and grandmother arranged the next gatherings with the clatter of seeds, he quietly removed the key from my mother’s bag, went to the mine to the locksmith’s workshop, and made a copy. At first confused, I immediately took advantage of it, and an hour later, an out-of-breath Mother burst into the apartment:

“Where did you get the key?”

I realized that the fate of the key was shaken and it depended on my answer: to be it or not to be. I did not want to part with such a valuable thing, and I, as simply as possible, answered:

“I didn’t take it anywhere.”

“And how did you get into the apartment?”

“It was open,” I lied.

The mother jumped up and began to run about the apartment.

In the evening, Father came home from work, and Mother told him about a strange incident. They discussed for a long time who could have left the apartment open, but did not come to a consensus. My brother and I, as a rule, went to school with our mother. Father, depending on the shift, could leave earlier than Mother, but could also leave later than us. Mother was not going to think badly about herself in principle; Father, according to him, did not suffer from sclerosis, and that day, he left first. I could not leave the apartment open or lock it, because I did not have a key. My brother was not given the key because of his infancy. The culprit was not found.

For some time, the “forgetfulness” of my mother subsided, and there were no problems with the key. But after a couple of weeks, I again found myself in front of a locked door. This didn’t scare me; I took out my own key, unlocked the lock, and went into the apartment. After a couple of hours, Mother came. Holding her key in her hands, she began to wave it in front of my nose and ask how I got into the apartment. I had to repeat the last trick. Father returned from work. I was forced to tell my story to him. My parents rummaged through the entire apartment, but in their opinion, they did not find any valuable items missing. Nothing was stolen from us. The assumption that I unlocked the castle with a nail did not pass, since the lock was English, and I could not open it with a nail. They didn’t find my “master” key; I carefully hid it under the clothes hanger behind a shelf with shoes. And then my father made the assumption that unknown persons were unlocking our apartment and were engaged in something in it.

“Then?” I became interested.

My parents looked into each other’s eyes, and did not begin to develop this topic. I realized that I could not blame the open apartment further and decided to connect my younger brother to this problem. Of course, due to his small age, I could not initiate Pavlik directly into the problem; he would have been “chopped up” in a few seconds. Therefore, I acted differently. On the day of classes in the theater club, I did not stop at the Palace of Culture, but hid on a bench among the lilac bushes, from where I could see the corner of the school, because of which, after the end of classes, my brother should leave. I did not have to wait long. Seeing him in the midst of a ganging squad of boys, I rushed home, racing. There was nobody at home, so I unlocked the apartment and hid in the backyards. A few minutes later, Pavlik came.

Mother was aware of my theatrical and literary hobbies, and although she did not encourage them, she did not interfere. In the days of the exercises, she tried to come early so as not to leave my brother unattended for a long time. I waited for her to return, too, and after chatting with my friends for an hour, I entered the apartment. My brother sat at the table and learned lessons; Mother nervously walked around the rooms. As usual, I went into my room, put the bag next to my table, and, preparing for basketball training, began to unload textbooks from it and fold up my sports uniform.

“You didn’t come here after school?” my mother asked me.

“No, I had a literary circle,” I lied. “What for?”

“Lessons to learn,” she said.

“The apartment was open,” cried my brother from the hall.

“I didn’t open it,” I lied to my mother and brother. “I’ll do the lessons now.”

Donetsk is a big city. We lived on its outskirts, and I needed to travel far to the basketball section, almost to the very center. Training began late, at eight o’clock in the evening, and lasted until half past nine or even ten. When I returned home, my brother and father were already sleeping, and my mother was checking notebooks. Cursing, she opened the door for me, and I quietly walked into my room.

In the morning, my brother told me that parents decided to install a new lock. On Sunday, Grandfather came and, demonstrating his carpentry skills, installed us a new lock. There were four keys in the kit; Grandfather conscientiously gave us all one at a time. Mother and I did not take away my brother’s key and he lost it on the very first day. Can’t trust keys to fools!


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
  6. Chapter 5: My Friend Sasha Bichukov
  7. Chapter 6: Score
  8. Chapter 7: Again, the Transience of Being, Part 1
  9. Chapter 7: Again, the Transience of Being, Part 2
  10. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 1
  11. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 2
  12. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 3
  13. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 4
  14. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 5
  15. Chapter 9: School Again, Part 1