A Frog Question

Anton giggled as he approached me. Many people would look bizarre doing that without an obvious reason, but it suited him perfectly.

“And now you. A kind guy. A smart guy,” he said. This was another habit of his. He’d talk in a way that made sense only to him.

I shrugged. That’s how I dealt with Anton.

We stood near a small pond. So the others would leave me alone, I volunteered to guard our khaki knapsacks, piled on top of each other in an untidy heap. Behind us, a dense forest whispered its age-old thoughts to a caressing breeze. Across the pond lay the endless green expanse of the mid-Russian countryside, with a few black and white cows dotted here and there. The air smelled a little of the stale pond water and the cow dung from a farm nearby.

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A Sobering Anecdote

It’s the dead of night in my Soviet Army Academy, senior year. I am on duty in the dormitory, which for the seniors is actually quite a decent building in the center of Moscow. A long corridor goes left and right at an angle with doors leading to many two- and three-person rooms. The walls are a light blue hue, and the smell of floor wax permeates the air. Everyone is sleeping.

I am at a table in the middle corner of the corridor, reading a book (Papillion), directly across from the entrance door. Near my book is a large glass of Gorilka, a type of Ukrainian self-made vodka that is about 60 proof. On top of the glass, a piece of rye bread and a pickled cucumber are resting. I am relaxed and sleepy. My mind is far away in French Guinea.

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A Queer Gamble

“All right,” Nikolay said, scowling. “I’ll do it, you bloody bastards. Get your cash ready!” He was talking tough to cover his embarrassment. It helped us all. We were all a little embarrassed.

We were a group of five friends in our late teens, cadet members of a military unit studying Oriental languages in the Soviet Army Academy. We were a proud bunch, having passed a rigorous selection. We thought ourselves to be the crème de la crème, and we were cocky as hell.

We had been confined to our barracks in the center of Moscow for the first three years of study. From time to time, during our long Sundays, we liked to entertain ourselves with some gambling of a special kind: we’d do risky things, and bet money on success or failure. We had a few dicey deeds under our belts already, and we were on a constant look out for new adventures.

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