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Praise for Buddha's Little Finger Televin's fine absurdist mind takes on a bit of his country's dubious history and molds it into a Buddhist retelling, in which the plague of doubt cultivated by Russia's past plays beautifully. All the while, his story works with notions of personal and national identity, creating a dream world of delightful intensity and literary cunning." —San Francisco Chronicle "The sharpest, most astute, and darkly witty Russian writer today." —The Philadelphia Inquirer "Pelevin has often been compared, quite rightly, to the science fiction novelist Philip K. Dick .he has...
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Praise for Buddha's Little Finger Televin's fine absurdist mind takes on a bit of his country's dubious history and molds it into a Buddhist retelling, in which the plague of doubt cultivated by Russia's past plays beautifully. All the while, his story works with notions of personal and national identity, creating a dream world of delightful intensity and literary cunning." —San Francisco Chronicle "The sharpest, most astute, and darkly witty Russian writer today." —The Philadelphia Inquirer "Pelevin has often been compared, quite rightly, to the science fiction novelist Philip K. Dick .he has a gift for making complicated philo- sophical arguments feel both urgent and humane." —The New York Times Book Review "Don't miss this book .it is driven by the profoundest sense of irony, fueled by Pelevin's awesome ability to dance with the absurd . through all of it, there are immensely entertaining, more or-less S( >eratic explorations of psychiatry, Marxism, cocaine, medical prac- tice, politics, vodka, spirituality, Marist theology, Western and Asian philosophies, the Upanishads, Russian cultural nationalism." —The Baltimore Sun "A riotous eruption of a book . , . hypnotically interesting and highly amusing .give yourself over to the wild enjoyment of joke after joke, extreme situations, mayhem, murder, violent combat, a crazy blend of Duck Soup and Gone with the Wind." —The Seattle Times "A wild, intellectual, crisp and tightly-woven novel that startles, challenges, and delights .Pelevin doesn't fit into any category, which is a characteristic of only the greatest writers." —Houston Chronicle "Marvelous .provides a spirited exploration of the Buddhist road to enlightenment, of the borderland between history and its telling, and of the nature of reality itself.Buddlia's Little Finger flies the reader to places never before imagined." —Bookforum " In a tale Gogol would be proud of, Pelevin trains his eye on a mythic Russian figure and finds a terrifying nothingness there .by far his strongest work." —Time Out New York, PENGUINBOOKSBUDDHA' S LITTLEFINGERVictor Pelevin was born in 1962 in Moscow, where he lives today. His books include the novels Oman Ra and The Life of Insects, the novella The Yellow Arrow, and the story collections A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and The Blue Lantern, which won the Russian "Little Booker" Prize in 1993. Pelevin's new novel, Homo Zapiens, will be published by Viking in February of 2002.,

Buddha's Little Finger

VICTOR PELEVIN translated by Andrew BromfieldPENGUINBOOKS, PENGUINBOOKSPublished by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camber well Road, Camber well, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pry Ltd) Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Pancnsheel Park, New Delhi -110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Mairangi Bay, Auckland 1311, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa Gazing at the faces of the horses and the people, at this bound- Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England less stream of life raised up by the power of my will and now First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin, hurtling into nowhere across the sunset-crimson steppe, I often a member of Penguin Putnam Inc., 2000 Published in Penguin Books 2001 think: where am I in this flux? GHENGIS KHAN57910864Copyright © Victor Pelevin, 1996 Translation copyright © Andrew Bromfield, 1999 All rights reserved Originally published in Russia under the title Chapaev I Pustota. Published in Great Britain by Faber and Faber as The Clay Machine Gun. An extract from Chapter 6 first appeared in Granta: Russia, The Wild East, 1998. PUBLISHER'S NOTE This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE HARDCOVER EDITION AS FOLLOWS: Pelevin, Viktor. [Chapaev i Pustota. English] Buddha's little finger / Victor Pelevin; translated by Andrew Bromfield. p. cm. ISBN 0-670-89168-1 (he.) ISBN 978-0-14-100232-3 (pbk.) 1. Bromfield, Andrew. II. Title PG3485.E38 C4813 2000 891.73'44~-dc21 99-089565 Printed in the United States of America Set in Palatino Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.,


For numerous reasons the name of the true author of this manuscript, written during the early 1920s in one of the monasteries of Inner Mongolia, cannot be mentioned, and it is published here under the name of the editor who prepared it for publication. This version does not include the descrip- tions of a number of magical procedures which figured in the original, nor does it retain the narrator's rather lengthy rem- iniscences of his life in pre-revolutionary St Petersburg (the so-called Petersburg Period). The author's definition of the genre of the work as 'a peculiar flight of free thought' has also been omitted: it would seem quite clear that it can only be re- garded as a joke. The story narrated by the author is of interest as a psycho- logical journal which, while it undoubtedly possesses a num- ber of artistic virtues, makes absolutely no claim to anything beyond that, although at times the author does undertake to discuss topics which, in our view, are in no need of discus- sion. The somewhat spasmodic nature of the narrative re- flects the fact that the intention underlying the writing of this text was not to create a 'work of literature', but to record the mechanical cycles of consciousness in such a way as to achieve a complete and final cure for what is known as 'the inner life'. Furthermore, in two or three places, the author ac- tually attempts to point directly to the mind of the reader, rather than force him to view yet another phantom con- structed out of words; unfortunately this is far too simple a task for his attempts to prove successful. Literary specialists will most likely perceive nothing more in our narrative than yet another product of the critical solipsism which has been so fashionable in recent years, but the true value of this docu- ment lies in the fact that it represents the first attempt in the, x PREFACE PREFACE XI history of culture to embody in the forms of art the Mongo- describe. In addition, it should be noted that although Mr lian Myth of the Eternal Non-Return. Furmanov did meet the historical Chapaev on at least two oc- Let us briefly introduce the main hero of the book. The ed- casions, he could not possibly have been the author of this itor of this text once read me a tanka written by the poet book, for reasons which will emerge in the course of our nar- Pushkin: rative. It is therefore hard to credit that even now many peo- ple regard the text ascribed to him as virtually a documentary And yet this year of gloom, which carried off account. So many victims brave and good and beautiful, In fact, it is not difficult to detect behind this forgery, now Is scarce remembered even more than seventy years old, the activity of well-financed and In some simple shepherd's song highly active forces which were interested in concealing the Of sweet and soft lament. truth about Chapaev from the peoples of Eurasia for as long In translation into Mongolian the phrase 'brave victim' has a as possible. However, the very discovery of the present man- strange ring to it; however, this is not the proper place to ex- uscript seems to us a clear indication that the balance of plore that theme, and we merely wished to point out that the power on the continent has shifted. final three lines of this verse could well be a reference to the To conclude, we have altered the title of the original text story of Vasily Chapaev. (which was 'Vasily Chapaev') precisely in order to avoid any What is now known about this man? As far as we are able confusion with the aforementioned fake. The title 'Buddha's to judge, in the memory of the common people his image has Little Finger' has been chosen as being adequately indicative assumed the features of pure myth, and Chapaev is now of the major theme, while not overly suggestive, although Russian folklore's closest equivalent of the famous Khadji the editor did suggest another alternative, 'The Garden of Nasruddin: he is the hero of an infinite number of jokes de- the Divergent Petkas'. rived from a famous film of the 1930s, in which Chapaev is We dedicate the merit created by this text to the good of all represented as a Red cavalry commander fighting against the living creatures. White army, who engages in long, heart-to-heart conversa- Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha tions with his adjutant Petka and his machine-gunner Anka and finally drowns while attempting to swim across the Ural —Urgan Jambon Tulku VII river during a White attack. All this, however, bears ab- Chairman of the Buddhist Front solutely no relation whatsoever to the life of the real Chapaev for Full and Final Liberation (FFL (b)) - or if there is some relation, then the true facts have been dis- torted beyond all recognition by conjecture and innuendo. This tangled web of confusion originated with the book Chapaev, which was first printed in French by a Paris publish- ing house in 1923 and then reprinted with unaccountable haste in Russia: we shall not waste any time on demonstrat- ing the book's lack of authenticity. Anyone who wishes to make the effort will discover in it a mass of discrepancies and contradictions, while the very spirit of the book is the best possible proof that the author (or authors) had absolutely no involvement with the events which they endeavour in vain to, Buddha's Little Finger, Tverskoi Boulevard was exactly as it had been when 1 last saw it, two years before. Once again it was February, with snowdrifts everywhere and that peculiar gloom which some- how manages to infiltrate the very daylight. The same old women were perched motionless on the benches; above them, beyond the black latticework of the branches, there was the same grey sky, like an old, worn mattress drooping down towards the earth under the weight of a sleeping God. Some things, however, were different. This winter the av- enues were scoured by a blizzard straight off the steppes, and I should not have been in the least surprised to have come face to face with a pair of wolves during the course of my walk. The bronze Pushkin seemed a little sadder than usual - no doubt because his breast was covered with a red apron bearing the inscription: 'Long Live the First Anniversary of the Revolution/. I felt not the slightest inclination for ironical comment on the fact that the cheers were intended for an event which could not by definition last longer than a single day - just recently I had been afforded more than ample op- portunity to glimpse the demonic face concealed behind such lapidary absurdities inscribed on red. It was beginning to get dark, but I could still make out Strastnoi Monastery through the snowy haze. On the square in front of it were two open trucks, their tall side walls tightly strung with bright scarlet material; there was a crowd jostling around them and the orator's voice carried to where I stood. I could scarcely make out anything of what he said, but the general meaning was clear enough from his intonation and the machine-gun rattle of the V in the words 'proletariat' and 'terror'. Two drunken soldiers walked past me, the bayonets on their rifles swaying behind their shoulders. They were, 2 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 3 hurrying towards the square, but one of them fixed his slow and solemn, but he makes rapid progress, and the three- brazen gaze on me, slowed his pace and opened his mouth as headed dog barking soundlessly in pursuit has no chance of though about to say something; fortunately - for him and for overtaking him. I laughed quietly, and at that very moment a me - his companion tugged him by the sleeve and they hand slapped me on the shoulder. walked on. I stepped to one side and swung round sharply, feeling for I turned and set off down the incline of the boulevard, the handle of the revolver in my pocket, when to my amaze- guessing at what it was in my appearance that constantly ment I saw before me the face of Grigory Vorblei, an aquain- aroused the suspicions of all these scum. Of course, I was tance from childhood. But, my God, his appearance! He was dressed in outrageously bad taste; I was wearing a dirty coat dressed from head to toe in black leather, a holster with a cut in the English style with a broad half-belt, a military cap Mauser dangled at his hip, and in his hand he was clutching (naturally, without the cockade) like the one that Alexander II a ridiculous kind of obstetrician's travelling bag. used to wear, and officer's boots. But it did not seem to be just T'm glad you're still capable of laughter,' he said. a matter of my clothes. There were, after all, plenty of other 'Hello, Grisha/ 1 said, 'how strange to see you.' people around who looked far more absurd. On Tverskaya 'Why strange?' Street, for instance, I had seen a completely insane gentleman 'It just is strange.' wearing gold-rimmed spectacles holding an icon ahead of 'Where have you come from?' he asked in a cheerful voice. him as he walked towards the black, deserted Kremlin, but no 'And where are you going?' one had paid him the slightest attention. Meanwhile, I was all 'From Petersburg/1 replied. 'As for where I'm going, I'd be the time aware of people casting sidelong glances at me, and glad if I knew that myself.' on each occasion I was reminded that I had neither money nor 'Then come to my place,' said Vorblei, 'I'm living just near documents about my person. The previous day, in the water- by, with an entire flat all to myself.' closet at the railway station, I had tried sticking a red bow on As we walked on down the boulevard we exchanged my chest, but I removed it as soon as I caught sight of my re- glances, smiles and meaningless snatches of conversation. flection in the cracked mirror; with the ribbon I looked not Since the time of our last meeting, Vorblei had grown a beard merely stupid, I looked doubly suspicious. which made his face look like a sprouting onion, and his It is possible, of course, that no one was actually directing cheeks had grown weathered and ruddy, as though his their gaze at me any more than at anyone else, and that my health had benefited greatly from several consecutive winters tight-strung nerves and the anticipation of arrest were to of ice-skating. blame for everything. I did not feel any fear of death. Per- We had studied in the same grammar school, but since haps, I thought, it had already happened, and this icy boule- then we had seen each other only rarely. I had encountered vard along which I was walking was merely the threshold of him a couple of times in the literary salons of St Petersburg - the world of shadows. I had realized long before that Russian he had taken to writing verse in a contrary style which was souls must be fated to cross the Styx when it is frozen, with only heightened by its obvious self-satisfaction. I was rather their fare collected not by a ferryman, but by a figure garbed irritated by his manner of sniffing cocaine in public and his in grey who hires out a pair of skates - the same spiritual constant hints at his connections in social-democratic circles; essence, naturally. however, to judge from his present appearance, the hints Suddenly I could picture the scene in the finest of detail: must have been true. It was instructive to see someone who at Count Tolstoy in black tights, waving his arms about, skates one time was quite adept at expounding the mystical signifi- over the ice towards the distant horizon - his movements are cance of the Holy Trinity now sporting the unmistakable, 4 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 5 signs of belonging to the hosts of evil. But then, of course, on which there was a clearly defined lighter coloured rectan- there was really nothing surprising in this transformation: gular area which showed where a name plaque had once many decadents, such as Mayakovsky, sensing the clearly in- been. He opened the door, and we went into a dark hallway fernal character of the new authority, had hastened to offer when a telephone on the wall immediately began to jangle. their services to it. As a matter of fact, it is my belief that they Vorblei picked up the receiver. 'Yes, comrade Babayasin,' were not motivated by conscious satanism - they were too in- he roared into the ebony cup of the mouthpiece. 'Yes, I re- fantile for that - but by aesthetic instinct: after all, a red pen- member .No, don't send them .Comrade Babayasin, I tagram does complement a yellow blouse so marvellously can't do that, it will look ridiculous .Just imagine - with the well. sailors, it will be a disgrace .What? I will follow orders, but 'How are things in Petersburg?' asked Vorblei. I must register a vigorous protest .What?' 'As if you didn't know/ He glanced sideways at me and, not wishing to embarrass 'That's right/ agreed Vorblei, suddenly seeming to lose in- him, I went through into the lounge. terest. T do know.' The floor there was covered with newspapers - most of We turned off the boulevard, crossed the roadway and them banned long ago. I supposed there must have been files found ourselves in front of a seven-storey apartment house. It of them left behind in the flat. Other traces of the place's for- was directly opposite the Palace Hotel, in front of which two mer life were also visible: there was a delightful Turkish car- machine-gun installations were visible; they were manned by pet hanging on the wall and below it stood a secretaire sailors smoking cigarettes, and a red flag flapped in the wind decorated with enamel rhomboids of various colours. As at the end of a long stick. soon as I saw it I realized that a well-to-do bourgeois family Vorblei tugged at my sleeve. 'Look over there/ he said. must have lived there. A large mirror stood against the oppo- I turned my head. On the street outside the entrance to the site wall. Beside it hung a crucifix in the art-nouveau style, house stood a black limousine with a tiny cabin for passen- and for a moment I pondered the nature of the religious feel- gers and open front seats, on which the snow had piled up. ing which might correspond to such a work of art. A consid- 'What?' I asked. erable part of the space was occupied by an immense bed 'It's mine/ said Vorblei. 'It goes with the job.' under a yellow canopy. The items that stood on the round 'Ah/ I said, 'congratulations.' table in the centre of the room seemed to me - possibly be- We entered the apartment building. The lift was not work- cause of their proximity to the crucifix ~ to be a still-life com- ing and we had to make our way up a dark staircase, from posed of esoteric Christian motifs: a large bottle of vodka, a which the carpet runner had not yet been ripped away. halvah tin shaped like a heart, a staircase leading into empti- 'What is it that you do?' I asked. ness constructed out of pieces of black bread laid one on top 'Oh/ said Vorblei, 'it's not something I can explain in a few of another, three tooth glasses and a cross-shaped can- words. There's really a lot of work - too much, in fact. First opener. one thing, then another, and then something else, and all the Lying on the floor beside the mirror was a pile of packages time you have to try to keep up. First one place, then another. whose shapes put me in mind of contraband; a sour smell of Someone has to do it all.' leg-wrappings and stale drink hung in the air, and there were 'In the cultural line, is it?' also a great many empty bottles in the room. I sat on the table. He inclined his head to one side in a rather indefinite fash- Shortly afterwards the door squeaked open and Vorblei ion. I did not try to ask any more questions. came in. He took off his leather jacket, exposing an emphati- When we reached the fifth floor we approached a tall door cally military tunic., 6 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 7 The things they give you to do / he said as he sat down, my eyes, 'we keep on joking away, but I can see that some- 'That was the Cheka on the phone.' thing's wrong. What's happened to you? You and I are old 'You work for them as well?' friends, of course, but even setting that aside I could probably T avoid them as much as I can.' help you.' 'How did you get involved with such company anyway?' I decided to risk it. Vorblei smiled broadly. 'It couldn't have been more sim T will be honest with you. Three days ago in Petersburg I pie. I had a five-minute telephone conversation with Gorky.' had visitors.' 'And straight away they gave you a Mauser and that lim- 'Where from?' ousine?' 'From that theatre of yours.' 'Listen/ he said, 'life is a theatre. That's a well-known fact. 'How do you mean?' he asked, raising his eyebrows. But what you don't hear said so often is that every day the 'Just as I said. Three of them came from the Cheka, one in- theatre shows a new play. And right now, Petya, I m putting troduced himself as some kind of literary functionary, and on a show the like of which you can't imagine .. / the others had no need to introduce themselves. They spoke He raised his hands above his head and shook them in the with me for about forty minutes, mostly the literary one; then air, as though he were jingling coins in an invisible sack. they said our conversation had been most interesting, but it 'And it's not even the play that's the thing,' he said. To would have to be continued in a different place. I did not continue the analogy, in the old days anyone who felt like it want to go to that other place because, as you know, it's not could fling a rotten egg at the stage. Today, however, it's the one from which one very often returns actors who are more likely to rake the hall with machine-gun 'But you did come back/ Vorblei interrupted. fire - they might even toss out a bomb. Think about it, who T did not come back,' I said, T never went there. I ran away would you rather be right now? An actor or a member of the from them, Grisha. You know, the way we used to run away audience?' from the doorman when we were children.' This was a serious question. 'But why did they come for you?' asked Vorblei. 'You've 'What can I say? The action at this theatre of yours starts got absolutely nothing to do with politics. Was it something much further back than you suggest,' I said thoughtfully. 'Be- you did?' sides, I think that the future really belongs to the cinemato- T did absolutely nothing at all. It sounds stupid even to talk graph.' about it. I published a poem in a newspaper, but it was a Vorblei chuckled and nodded. 'All the same, you think newspaper which didn't meet their approval. And there was about what I said.' one rhyme in it they did not like either: "Red" and "mad". T promise I will,' I answered. Can you imagine that?' He poured himself some vodka and drank it. 'And what was the poem about?' 'Ah/ he said, 'about the theatre. Do you know who the 'Oh, it was completely abstract. It was about the stream of Commissar for Theatres is now? Madame Malinovskaya. Of time washing away the wall of the present so that new pat- course, you never knew her, did you?' terns keep appearing on it, and we call some of them the past. T don't remember,' I replied, a little irritated. 'Who the hell Our memory tells us that yesterday really existed, but how was she?' can we be sure that all of these memories did not simply ap- 'Vorblei sighed. He stood up and walked across the room pear with the first light of dawn?' without speaking. 'I don't quite understand,' said Vorblei. 'Petya/ he said, sitting down facing me and gazing up into 'Neither do I/ I said. 'But that is not the point. The main, 8 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 9 thing I am trying to say is that there was no politics in it at all. 'My God/ he said, 'if you only knew just how often I've At least, that was what I thought. But they thought differ- heard that phrase.' ently, they explained that to me. The most frightening thing 'Well, then/ I said, 'the revolver is in my coat. What an in- was that after the conversation with their consultant I actu- credible bastard you are. But then I've known that since we ally understood his logic, I understood it so well that .It were children. What do you get out of all of this? Do you was so frightening that when they led me out on to the street, think they'll give you a medal?' I ran away not so much from them as from this new under- Vorblei smiled. 'Into the corridor/ he said. standing of mine .. / When we were in the corridor he kept the gun trained on Vorblei frowned. me while he rummaged through the pockets of my coat, took The entire story is a load of arrant nonsense/ he said. out the revolver and put it in his pocket. There was a furtive They're nothing but idiots. But you're a fine fool yourself. haste about his movements, like a schoolboy on his first visit Was that the reason you came to Moscow?' to a brothel, and the thought occurred to me that he had prob- 'Well, what could I do? As I was running away, I fired. You ably never had to commit an act of treachery in such an obvi- may understand that I was firing at a spectre created by my ous and commonplace fashion before. own fear, but that is hardly something I can explain to them 'Unlock the door/ he ordered, 'and go out on to the landing.' at the Cheka.' 'Let me put my coat on/ I said, feverishly wondering Vorblei looked at me seemingly engrossed in his thoughts. whether there was anything 1 could say to this man, so ex- I looked at his hands - he was running them across the table- cited by his own baseness, that might be capable of changing cloth with a barely perceptible motion, as though he were the unfolding course of events. wiping away sweat, and then suddenly he hid them under 'We're not going far/ said Vorblei, 'just across the boule- the table. There was an expression of despair on his face, and vard. But put it on anyway.' I sensed that our meeting and my account had placed him in I took the coat down from the hanger with both hands, an extremely awkward situation. turned slightly to thrust my arm into one of the sleeves, and 'Of course, that makes it worse/ he muttered. 'But still, it's the next moment, to my own amazement, I had flung the coat a good thing you've confided in me. I think we'll be able to over Vorblei - not simply tossed it in his direction, but actu- sort itout.Yes, yes, I'm sure we can sort itout.I'll give ally thrown it right on top of him. Gorky a call straight away .Put your hands on your head.' To this day I do not understand how he failed to shoot me, I did not take in the meaning of the final words until I saw but a fact is a fact. He pressed the trigger only as he was the muzzle of the Mauser lying on the tablecloth. Incredibly falling to the floor under the weight of my body and the bul- enough, the very next thing that he did was to take a pince- let missed my side by a few inches and struck the door of the nez out of his breast pocket and set it on his nose. apartment. The coat covered Vorblei's head where he had 'Put your hands on your head,' he repeated. fallen and I grabbed hold of his throat through the thick fab- 'What are you doing?' I asked, raising my hands. 'Grisha?' ric. I managed to pin the wrist of the hand clutching the pis- 'No/ he said. tol to the floor with my knee, though before his fingers '"No" what?' opened he had fired several more bullets into the wall. I was 'Weapon and papers on the table, that's what.' almost deafened by the thunderous noise. I think that in the 'How can I put them on the table/ I said, 'if my hands are course of the struggle I must have butted his covered face; in on my head?' any case, I can clearly recall the quiet crunching of his pince- He cocked his pistol. nez in the interlude between two shots., 10 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 11 Even after he had stopped moving, it was a long time be- ical. forceps (I immediately flung them into the corner) and a fore I could bring myself to release my grip on his throat. My thick wad of money, with rainbow-coloured one-hundred- hands scarcely obeyed me; in order to restore my breathing I rouble Duma notes on one side and dollars on the other. It performed an exercise, but it had a strange effect, inducing a was all just what I needed. In order to restore myself a little mild fit of hysterics. I suddenly saw the scene from the per- after the shock I had suffered, I stuffed a generous amount of spective of an outside observer: a figure sitting on the corpse cocaine into my nostrils. It slashed across my brain like a of a newly strangled friend and assiduously breathing ac- razor and I instantly became calm. 1 did not like cocaine, it cording to Yogi Ramacharaki's method as described in the made me too sentimental, but just now 1 needed to recover journal Isida. As I stood up, I was overwhelmed by the real- control rapidly. ization that I had committed murder. Taking Vorblei under the arms, I dragged him along the Of course, like anyone else who did not entirely trust the corridor, kicked open the door into one of the rooms and was authorities, I carried a revolver, and two days before I had about to push him inside when I froze in the doorway. De- had no qualms about using it. But this was something differ- spite the devastation and neglect, signs of the room's former ent, this was some dark scene out of Dostoevsky: an empty life were still visible, illuminated by a light still there from be- flat, a corpse covered with an English-style coat, and a door fore the war; it had been the nursery, two small beds with leading to a hostile world - a door perhaps already being ap- light bamboo railings stood in one corner and on the wall proached by people attracted by idle curiosity. By an effort of there was a charcoal drawing of a horse and a face with a will I banished these thoughts from my mind. The Dosto- moustache. There was a red rubber ball lying on the floor. evskian atmosphere, of course, was not created by the corpse When 1 saw it, 1 immediately closed the door and dragged or the door with its bullet hole, but by myself, by my own Vorblei further along the corridor. I was startled by the fune- consciousness, which had assimilated the forms of another's real simplicity of the next room: standing in the centre was a repentance. black grand piano with its lid open, and beside it a revolving Opening the door on to the stairs slightly, 1 listened for a stool. There was nothing else. few seconds. I could hear nothing, and I thought that perhaps At this moment a strange sensation came over me. Leaving the sound of a few pistol shots might not have attracted at- Vorblei half-sitting in the corner (all the time I had been mov- tention after all. ing him I had been very careful to make sure that his face did My revolver was still in Vorblei's trouser pocket, but I re- not peep out from under the grey fabric of the coat), I sat ally did not feel inclined to retrieve it. 1 picked up his Mauser down at the piano. How strange, I thought, comrade Fourply and looked it over. It had an excellent mechanism, and was is here - and he is not here. Who knows what transformations quite new. I forced myself to search his jacket and discovered his soul is now undergoing? I remembered a poem by him, a packet of Tra' papyrosas, a spare cartridge clip for the published three years earlier in the New Satiricon - it took the Mauser and a pass for a member of the Cheka in the name of form of a retelling of a newspaper article about the disbanding Grigory Fourply. Yes, I thought to myself - that was a typical of some parliament or other and its acrostic read as 'Mane touch; but his true character had already been clear even Tekel Fares', the words on King Belshazzar's wall. He was when we were children. alive; he thought; he pondered over things. How very strange. I squatted down on my haunches and opened the lock of I turned towards the piano and began quietly playing a his obstetrician's bag. Inside there was an official looking file piece by Mozart, my favourite fugue in F, which always made full of blank arrest warrants, another two cartridge clips, a tin me regret that I did not have the four hands the great musical box full of cocaine, some extremely unpleasant-looking med- madcap himself had dreamed of. The melody that engrossed, 12 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 13 me had nothing to do with the shocking incident with Vor- The door opened and two sailors in pea-jackets and rak- blei: the image that appeared before my eyes was of the small ishly flared trousers came tumbling into the room; they were bamboo beds in the next room, and for a second I imagined hung all over with bottle-shaped hand grenades. One of someone else's childhood, someone else's pure glance di- them, with a moustache, was already elderly but the other rected at the sunset, someone else's world, deeply moving was young, although his face was flaccid and anaemic. They beyond all words, which had now been borne off into obliv- paid not the slightest attention to the pistol in my hand. ion. I did not play for very long, though, the piano was out of 'Are you Fourply?' asked the older one with the moustache. tune, and I knew I should be leaving as quickly as possible. T am.' But where should I go? 'Here,' said the sailor, and he held out a piece of paper It was time to think about how I would spend the evening. folded into two. I went back into the corridor and glanced doubtfully at Vor- I put the Mauser back in its holster and unfolded the paper. blei's leather jacket, but there was nothing else. Despite the Com. Fourply! Go immediately to the 'Musical Snuffbox' to pro- daring nature of several of my literary experiments, I was still pound our line. To assist you I am sending Zherbunov and not enough of a decadent to put on a coat which had now be- Barbolin, experienced comrades. Babayasin' come a shroud and, moreover, had a bullet hole in its back. I took the jacket off the hook, picked up the obstetrician's bag Below the text there was an illegible seal. While I was and went through into the room with the mirror. thinking what to say, they sat down at the table. The leather jacket was just my size - the dead man and I Ts that driver downstairs yours?' I asked. were almost exactly the same height. When I tightened the 'Yes/ said the one with the moustache. 'But we'll take your belt with the holster dangling from it and looked at my re- car. What's your name?' flection, what I saw was the very image of a Bolshevik. I ex- 'Pyotr/ I said, and then almost bit my tongue. pect that an inspection of the packages lying by the wall 'I'm Zherbunov/ said the older one. would have made me a rich man in the space of a few min- 'Barbolin/ the younger one introduced himself. His voice utes, but my squeamishness won the upper hand. Painstak- was soft and almost womanish. ingly reloading the pistol, I checked that it sprang easily from I sat facing them at the table. Zherbunov poured out three its holster and was just about to leave the room when I heard glasses of vodka, pushed one across to me and raised his eyes voices in the corridor. I realized that all this time the front to my face. I realized that he was waiting for something. door of the apartment had been open. 'Well then/ I said, taking a grip on my glass, 'let us drink to I dashed over to the balcony. It looked out on to Tverskoi the victory of world revolution!' Boulevard and the twenty or so yards of cold dark emptiness My toast was not greeted with any great enthusiasm. beneath it held nothing but swirling snowflakes. In the circle of 'Of course, victory's all very well/ said Barbolin, 'but what light from a street lamp I could see Vorblei's automobile, and a about the works?' man wearing a Bolshevik helmet who had somehow appeared 'What works?' I asked. in the front seat. I decided that Vorblei must have summoned 'Don't you try playing the fool with us / Zherbunov re- the Cheka when he was on the telephone. It was impossible to proached me, 'Babayasin told us you were issued a tin today.' clamber down on to the balcony below, so 1 dashed back into 'Ah, you're talking about the cocaine/ I said, reaching into the room. They were already pounding on the door. So be it, I the obstetrician's bag. 'Works is a word with many different thought, all of this had to come to an end sooner or later. I meanings. Perhaps you'd like some ether, like William aimed the Mauser at the door and shouted: 'Enter!' James?', 14 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 15 'Who's he?' asked Barbolin, grasping the tin in his coarse, snowflakes, and the wind of fate was bearing me onwards in broad palm. the wake of the two other snowflakes in black pea-jackets who 'An English comrade/ were stomping down the stairs in front of me. However, de- Zherbunov cleared his throat dubiously, but for a moment spite the euphoria that had enveloped me, I remained capable Barbolin's face reflected one of those feelings that nineteenth- of a sober assessment of reality and was able to make one in- century Russian artists loved to depict when they were creat- teresting observation. While I was still in Petrograd I had been ing national types - the feeling that somewhere out there is a curious about how the sailors managed to keep up those wide and wonderful world, filled with amazing and attrac- heavy bullet harnesses they wore. On the third-floor landing, tive things, and though you can never seriously hope to reach where a solitary electric bulb was shining, I spotted several it yourself, you cannot help sometimes dreaming impossible hooks on Zherbunov's back which held his machine-gun belts dreams. together, rather in the manner of a brassiere. I immediately The tension disappeared as though by magic. Zherbunov had a vision of Zherbunov and Barbolin preparing themselves opened the tin, picked up a knife from the table, scooped up for their next killing and helping one another with this diffi- a monstrous amount of the white powder and rapidly stirred cult element of their toilet like two girls in a bathing hut. It it into his vodka. Barbolin did the same, first with his own seemed to me yet another proof of the feminine nature of all glass, and then with mine. revolutions. I suddenly understood several of Alexander 'Now we can do the world revolution justice,' he said. Blok's new moods; some involuntary exclamation must have My face must have betrayed an element of doubt, because escaped my throat, because Barbolin turned around. Zherbunov chuckled and said: 'This goes right back to the 'And you didn't want to try it, you nelly,' he said, exposing Aurora, brother, back to the very beginning. It's called "Baltic a gleaming gold tooth. tea".' We went out into the street. Barbolin said something to the They raised their glasses and drained them at a gulp, and soldier sitting in the front seat of the car, opened the door and there was nothing left for me but to follow their example. Al- we climbed in. The car immediately moved off. Through the most immediately my throat became numb. I lit a papyrosa rounded windscreen of the passenger cabin I could see a and inhaled deeply, but I could not taste the smoke. We sat snow-covered back and a sharp-pointed felt helmet. It was as there without speaking for about a minute. though our carriage were being driven by one of Ibsen's 'We should get going,' Zherbunov said suddenly and rose trolls. I thought that the construction of the automobile was from the table. 'Ivan'll freeze to death down there.' most uncomfortable and, moreover, humiliating for the dri- In a state of numb torpor, I put the tin back into the bag. 1 ver, who was always exposed to the elements - but perhaps hung back in the corridor, trying to find my fur hat, then put this was a deliberate arrangement, so that the passengers on Vorblei's peaked cap instead. We left the apartment and could enjoy not only the view through the window, but also set off in silence down the dimly lit staircase. savour the inequality of the classes. I was suddenly aware that my spirits were calm and easy, I turned towards the side window. The street was empty and the further I went, the calmer and easier they became. 1 and the snow falling on to the roadway was exceptionally was not thinking about the future, it was enough for me that I beautiful. It was illuminated by widely spaced street lamps; was not threatened by any immediate danger, and as we by the light of one of them I caught a glimpse of a phrase of crossed the dark landings I gazed entranced at the incredibly graffiti boldly daubed on the wall of a house: 'LENINE EST beautiful snowflakes swirling in the air outside the window- MERDE'. panes. It occurred to me that I myself was like one of those When the automobile braked to a halt, I was already feeling, 16 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 17 a little more normal. We alighted on an unfamiliar street beside by his foot while the other was gripped tightly in his left an entirely undistinguished-looking gateway in a wall, in front hand, so that the saw bent into a trembling curve. When he of which stood a couple of automobiles and several smart cabs. needed to dampen the vibration of the gleaming strip of A little further off I noticed a frightening-looking armoured car metal, he would press his bare foot against it for a second. Be- with its machine-gun turret buried under a cap of snow, but I side him on the floor stood a patent-leather shoe with a blind- had no time for a closer look, for the sailors had already ingly white sock protruding from it. The sound which the plunged into the gateway. We walked across an inexpressibly gentleman extracted from his instrument was absolutely un- bleak courtyard and found ourselves facing a door sur- earthly, at once doleful and enchanting. I think he was play- mounted by a protruding canopy with volutes and cherubs in ing a simple melody, but that was not important; what the old merchant style. A small signboard had been hung on mattered was the timbre, the modulations of a single note the canopy: 'THE MUSICAL SNUFFBOX: LITERARY CABARET'. that faded away over an eternity and pierced straight to the There was light showing through the pink curtains drawn very centre of my heart. tightly across several windows beside the door: from behind The door-curtain at the entrance quivered and the man in them I could hear the plaintively beautiful note of some ob- the Russian shirt stuck his head and shoulders out from be- scure musical instrument. hind it. He clicked his fingers somewhere off into the dark- Zherbunov tugged the door open sharply, revealing be- ness and nodded towards our table. Then he turned towards hind it a short corridor hung with fur coats and greatcoats, us, gave a short, formal bow and disappeared back behind which ended in a heavy velvet curtain. A man wearing a sim- the curtain. Immediately a waiter emerged out of somewhere ple Russian shirt and looking like a convict rose from a stool with a tray in one hand and a copper teapot in the other (there to meet us. were identical teapots standing on the other tables). The tray 'Citizen sailors/ he began, 'we don ' t .' held a dish of small pies, three teacups and a tiny whistle. The With the agility of a circus acrobat Barbolin swung his rifle waiter set the cups out in front of us, filled them from the around his shoulder and struck him with the butt in the base teapot and then froze in motionless anticipation. I held out a of his belly; the attendant slid down the wall and on to the bill drawn at random from my travelling bag - I think it was floor, his hostile face suddenly expressive of weariness and a ten-dollar note. I could not understand at first what the revulsion. Zherbunov pulled aside the curtain, and we en- whistle was doing on the tray, but then I heard a melodic tered a dimly lit hall. whistling from one of the neighbouring tables, and saw a Feeling myself fired by an unusual burst of energy, I waiter come dashing over at the sound. looked around. The place looked like an ordinary run-of-the- Zherbunov swallowed a mouthful of liquid from his cup mill restaurant with some pretensions to chic, and the public and grimaced in distaste. Then I tried a sip from mine. It was seated among the dense clouds of smoke at small round ta- khan]a, a bad Chinese vodka made from kaoliang. I started bles was quite varied. There was a smell of opium. Nobody chewing on a pie, but I could not taste it at all; the freezing ef- took any notice of us, and we sat at a small table not far from fect on my throat of the cocaine had still not worn off. the entrance. 'What's in the pies?' Barbolin asked gingerly. 'People keep The hall was bounded on one side by a brightly lit stage, on disappearing these days, after all. I don't feel like breaking which a clean-shaven gentleman in evening dress, with one my fast that way.' bare foot, was sitting on a black velvet stool. He was sliding T tried it once,' Zherbunov said simply. 'It's like beef.' the bow he held in his right hand across the smooth edge of a Unable to bear any more of this, I took out the tin box and long saw, one handle of which was pressed against the floor Barbolin set about stirring the powder into our cups., 18 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 19 Meanwhile the gentleman in evening dress finished play- robes and Creek masks. They began slowly moving towards ing, donned his sock and shoe with elegant rapidity, stood each other, but stopped before they came close. One of them up, bowed, picked up the stool and quit the stage to the had an axe hanging under his arm in a noose entwined with sound of scattered applause. A handsome-looking man with roses - I realized that he was Raskolnikov. This, in fact, was a small grey beard got up from a table beside the stage. His obvious enough without the axe, because the board bearing throat was wrapped in a grey scarf as though to conceal a his name was hanging by the wings on his side of the stage. love bite. I was astonished to recognize him as the poet The other figure halted, slowly raised his arm in the air and Valery Briusov, now old and emaciated. He mounted the began intoning in ponderous hexameters. In almost exactly stage and turned to face the hall. the same words as his drunken prototype in the novel, he 'Comrades! Although we live in a visual age, in which lines confessed that he had nowhere left to turn, then declared that of printed words are being supplanted by sequences of im- Raskolnikov's blazing eyes betrayed a keen sensibility of the ages or .hmm ., ' he declaimed, 'still tradition does not woes of the downtrodden and oppressed, and immediately abandon the struggle, but seeks to discover new forms. To suggested that they should drink to that (this was indeed a this day the immortal Dostoevsky and his novel Crime and revolutionary innovation). Punishment continue to inspire young seekers of truth, both The actor with the axe declined curtly. Marmeladov quickly with axes to grind and without. And so now a little tragedy - drained his glass and continued his oration, paying Raskol- that is the precise definition of this play's genre, according to nikov a long and confused compliment, in which I found sev- the author himself, the chamber poet loann Pavlukhin, eral of the images quite effective - for instance that of the Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please for the little arrogant strength of emptiness blossoming behind the hero's tragedy Raskolnikov and Marmeladov/ eyes and lending his face a semblance of the visage of God. 'Your attention please,' echoed Zherbunov, and we drank. On hearing the word 'God', Zherbunov nudged me with Briusov left the stage and returned to his table. Two men in his elbow. military uniform carried a massive gilded lyre on a stand and 'What d'you reckon?' he asked in a low voice. a stool out on to the stage from the wings. Then they brought 'It is still too soon,' I whispered in reply, 'Carry on watching.' out a table, stood a pot-bellied liqueur bottle and two glasses Marmeladov's meaning grew more and more ambiguous. on it, and pinned up two pieces of cardboard at either side of Dark hints began to surface in the flow of his words: a com- the stage, bearing the words 'Raskolnikov' and 'Harmeladov' parison of the grey St Petersburg morning with a blow from (I immediately decided that the misspelling of the second an axe to the back of the head, of his own world-weary soul name was not a mistake but a symbol of some kind), and fi- with a dark closet in which the bodies of dead women lay. At nally they hung a board bearing the incomprehensible word this, Raskolnikov began showing clear signs of nervousness, 'yhvy' in the centre of the stage. Having duly situated all of and he enquired what Marmeladov wanted of him. In some these objects in their places, they disappeared. A woman in a confusion, Marmeladov asked him to sell the axe. long tunic emerged from the wings and began running In the meantime I surveyed the hall. There were three or leisurely fingers over the strings of the lyre. Several minutes four people at each round table; the customers were a very passed in this fashion before a quartet of individuals in long mixed bunch, but as has always been the case throughout the black cloaks appeared on stage. Each of them went down on history of humanity, it was pig-faced speculators and expen- one knee and raised a black hem to conceal his face from the sively dressed whores who predominated. Sitting at the same audience. Someone applauded. At the opposite end of the table as Briusov, and grown noticeably fatter since the last stage two figures appeared wearing tall buskins, long white time I had seen him, was Alexei Tolstoy, wearing a big bow, 20 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 21 instead of a normal tie. The fat that had accumulated on him Raskolnikov, leapt on to his chest and began strangling him, seemed to have been pumped from the skeletal frame of wiggling her lace clad bottom to and fro in excitement. Briusov: together they looked quite horrific. For a moment I thought that what was happening was the Looking further, at one of the tables I noticed a strange man result of some monstrous conspiracy, and that everybody sporting a military blouse criss-crossed with belts and an up­ w'.is looking in my direction. I glanced around like a beast at turned handlebar moustache. He was alone at his table, and !му, my eyes once again met those of the man in the black instead of a teapot there was a bottle of champagne standing military blouse, and I somehow suddenly realized that he in front of him. I decided that he must be a big Bolshevik boss. к new all about the death of Vorblei - that he knew, in fact, far I do not know what it was in his calm, powerful face that more serious things about me than just that. struck me as unusual, but for several seconds I was unable to At that moment I came close to leaping up from my chair take my gaze off him. His eyes met mine, but he immediately fend taking to my heels, and it took a monstrous effort of will turned away to face the stage, where the meaningless dia­ to remain sitting at the table. The audience was applauding logue was continuing. ircbly; several of them were laughing and pointing at the Raskolnikov attempted to discover for what purpose itage, but most were absorbed in their own conversations Marmeladov required the axe and received replies couched in ind their vodka. vague, flowery phrases about youth, the Grail, eternity, power, I laving strangled Raskolnikov, the woman in the wig hope and - for some strange reason - the phases of the moon. bounded over to the front of the stage and began dancing Eventually Raskolnikov capitulated and handed over the axe. wildly to the insane accompaniment of the two violins, kick­ He was counting the wad of bills that Marmeladov had given ing her naked legs up towards the ceiling and waving the axe. him in payment, when he suddenly swayed back and froze in The four figures in black, who had remained motionless astonishment. He had noticed that Marmeladov was standing throughout the play, now took hold of Raskolnikov, still cov- there in front of him wearing a mask. Still speaking in the same ered by the tunic, and carried him into the wings. I had a faint laboured hexameters, he began asking Marmeladov to remove mkling that this was a reference to the very end of Hamlet, the mask. I was particularly struck by one image which he where there is a mention of four captains who are supposed to used, 'Your eyes are like two yellow stars' - Briusov broke into carry away the dead prince. Strangely enough, this thought applause at the words, but overall it was far too long and brought me to my senses straight away. I realized that what drawn out. After Raskolnikov had repeated his request for the was happening was not a conspiracy against me ~ nobody third time, Marmeladov paused in silence for a long, terrible could possibly have arranged it all in the time which had moment before tearing the mask from his face. Simultaneously passed - but a perfectly ordinary mystical challenge. Immedi­ the tunic attached to the mask was torn from his body, reveal­ ately deciding to accept it, I turned to the two sailors, who had ing a woman dressed in lacy knickers and a brassiere, sporting by this time retreated into themselves. a silvery wig with a rat's-tail plait. 'Time to call a halt, lads. This is treason.' 'Oh God ! .The old woman! And I am empty-handed .' Barbolin looked up at me uncomprehendingly. Having pronounced these final words in an almost inaudible The agents of the Entente are at it again,' I threw in at ran­ voice, Raskolnikov slumped to the floor from the full height dom. of his buskins. These words seemed to have some meaning for him, be­ What followed made me blench. Two violinists leapt out cause he immediately tugged his rifle from his shoulder. I re­ on to the stage and began frenziedly playing some gypsy strained him. melody, while the Marmeladov woman threw her tunic over 'Not that way, comrade. Wait.', 22 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 23 Meanwhile the gentleman with the saw had reappeared on ( iood evening, Valery Yakovlevich. Relaxing?' the stage, seated himself on the stool and begun ceremoni­ Uriusov started and looked at me for several seconds, obvi- ously removing his shoe. Opening up my travelling bag, I I -и >ly unable to place me. Then a doubtful smile appeared on took out a pencil and a blank Cheka arrest order; the plaintive l.i . rmaciated face. sounds of the saw swept me upwards and onwards, and a 'Petya?' he queried. Ts it you? 1 am truly glad to see you. suitable text was ready within a few minutes. loin us for a minute.' 'What's that you're writing?' asked Zherbunov. 'You want I sat at the table and greeted Tolstoy with reserve. We had to arrest someone?' uiri frequently enough at the Apollo editorial office, but 'No,' 1 replied, 'if we take anyone here, we have to take I i.nч 11 у knew one another at all. Tolstoy was extremely drunk. them all. We will handle this a different way. Zherbunov, re­ I low are you?' asked Briusov. 'Have you written anything member the orders? We're not just supposed to suppress the lately?' enemy, we have to propound our line, right?' No time for that now, Valery Yakovlevich,' I said. 'Right,' said Zherbunov. Yes,' said Briusov thoughtfully, his eyes skipping rapidly 'Well, then,' I said, 'you and Barbolin go backstage. I will . »ver my leather jacket and Mauser, 'that's true. Very true. I'm propound our line from the stage. Once I have finished, I'll i! le same .But I didn't know you were one of us, Petya. I al~ give the signal, and you come out. Then we'll play them the w ays thought highly of your verse, especially your first col­ music of the revolution.' lection, The Poems of Captain Lebyadkin. And of course, Songs of Zherbunov tapped a finger against his cup. lIn- Kingdom of L But I simply couldn't have imagined .You 'No, Zherbunov,' I said sternly, 'you won't be fit for work.' .i(ways had all those horses and emperors, and China .' An expression somewhat akin to hurt flitted across Zher- Conspiracy, Valery Yakovlevich,' I said, 'conspiracy .' bunov's face. 'I understand,' said Briusov, 'now I understand. But then, I 'What d'you mean?' he whispered. 'Don't you trust me, 11ssiJre you, I always did sense something of the sort. But then? Why I, I'd ..I'd give my life for the revolution!' you've changed, Petya. Become so dashing .your eyes are T know that, comrade,' I said, 'but cocaine comes later. Into positively gleaming .By the way, have you found time to action!' read Blok's "Twelve"?' The sailors stood up and walked towards the stage with 'I have seen it,' I said. firm, lumbering strides, as if they were not crossing a parquet And what do you think?' floor but the heaving deck of a battleship caught in a storm; at i do not entirely understand the symbolism of the ending,' that moment I felt something almost like sympathy for them. I said. 'What is Christ doing walking in front of the patrol? They climbed up the side steps and disappeared into the I )oes Blok perhaps wish to crucify the revolution?' wings. I tossed back the contents of my cup, rose and went 'Yes, yes,' Briusov replied quickly, 'Alyosha and I were just over to the table where Tolstoy and Briusov were sitting. Peo­ talking about that.' ple were watching me. Gentlemen and comrades, I thought, Hearing his name mentioned, Tolstoy opened his eyes and as I strode slowly across the strangely expanded hall, today I lifted his cup, but it was empty. He fumbled about on the too was granted the honour of stepping over my own old (able until he found the whistle and then raised it to his lips, woman, but you will not choke me with her imaginary fin­ but before he could blow it, his head slumped back on to his gers. Oh, damnation take these eternal Dostoevskian obses­ chest. sions that pursue us Russians! And damnation take us 'I have heard/ I said, 'that he has changed the ending, and Russians who can see nothing else around us! now he has a revolutionary sailor walking ahead of the patrol.', 24 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 25 Briusov pondered this for a moment, and then his eyes lit up. and i mpudent, frozen in a grimace of smug servility - beyond 'Yes/ he said, 'that's more correct. That's more accurate. the slightest doubt, this was the face of the old moneylender, And Christ walks behind them! He is invisible and he walks the old woman, disincarnate, but still as alive as ever. Sitting behind them, dragging his crooked cross through the dose to the stage was Ioann Pavlukhin, a long-haired freak swirling blizzard!' with a monocle; beside him a fat, pimply woman with im- 'Yes/ I said, 'and in the opposite direction.' mense red bows in her mousy hair was chewing on a pie - I 'You think so?' 11 u >ught that she must be the Theatre Commissar Madam Ma- T am certain of it/ I said, thinking that Zherbunov and Bar- Imovskaya. How I hated them all for that long second! bolin must have fallen asleep behind the curtain at this stage. I took the Mauser from its holster, raised it above my head, 'Valery Yakovlevich, I have something I would like to ask cleared my throat, and in my former manner, gazing straight you. Would you announce that the poet Fourply will now .i head without expression and using no intonation whatso- present a reading of revolutionary verse?' ever, but simply pausing briefly between quatrains, I read the 'Fourply?' Briusov asked. poem that I had written on the Cheka arrest form: 'My party pseudonym/ I explained. Comrades in the struggle! Our grief can know no bound. 'Yes, yes,' Briusov nodded, 'and so very profound! I shall Comrade Fourply has been treacherously struck down. be delighted to listen to you myself.' The Cheka reels now, pale and sick T would not advise that. You had better leave straight At the loss of a senior Bolshevik. away. The shooting will start in a minute or two.' it happened that on leaving a dangerous suspect Briusov turned pale and nodded. Neither of us said an- He paused along the way to light a cigarette, other word; when the saw fell silent and the dandified musi- When a counter-revolutionary White cian had put his shoe back on, Briusov rose from the table and Caught him clearly in his pistol sight. went up on the stage. Comrades! The muzzle thundered fierce and loud, 'Today/ he said, 'we have already spoken of the very latest The bullet smote brave comrade Fourply in the brow. forms in art. This theme will now be continued by the poet He tried to reach a hand inside his jacket Fourply/ - he could not restrain himself, and he rolled his But his eyes closed and he fell down flat ker-smackit. eyes up to the ceiling, making it clear that he was about to in- Comrades in the struggle! Close ranks and sing in unison, dulge in his typically idiotic wordplay - 'hmm .I have no And show the great White swine the terror of the revolution! wish to spoil the surprise, but let this poem serve as a kind of . , . hmm .foreplay. Your attention please for the poet Four- With these words I fired at the chandelier, but missed; imme- ply, who will read his revolutionary verse!' diately there was another shot from my right, the chandelier He walked quickly back down into the hall, smiled guiltily shattered and I saw Zherbunov there at my side, resetting the at me, shrugged, grabbed the weakly protesting Tolstoy breech on his gun. Going down on one knee, he fired a few under the arm and dragged him towards the exit; at that mo- more shots into the hall, where people were already scream- ment he looked like a retired teacher tugging along a disobe- ing and falling to the floor or attempting to hide behind the dient and stupid wolfhound on a leash. columns, and then Barbolin emerged from the wings. Sway- I went up on to the stage. The abandoned velvet stool ing as he walked, he went up to the edge of the stage, then stood conveniently ready at its edge. I set my boot on it and screeched as he tossed a bomb into the hall. There was a sear- gazed out into the hall, which had fallen silent. All the faces ing flash of white fire and a terrible bang, a table was over- I saw seemed to merge into a single face, at once fawning turned, and in the silence that followed someone gasped in, 26 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 27 astonishment. There was an awkward pause; in an attempt to fill it at least partly, I fired several times more into the ceiling, Through my slumber I could hear a woman giggling and and then I suddenly caught sight again of the strange man in brnkes squealing, Zherbunov's voice swearing darkly and the military tunic. He sat unperturbed at his table, sipping I'M11 м >lin hissing like a snake; they must have quarrelled over from his cup, and I think he was smiling. I suddenly felt stu­ iiu unfortunate girl. Then the automobile stopped. Raising pid. m\ head I saw the blurred and improbable-looking face of Zherbunov fired off another shot into the hall, Zherbunov. 'Cease fire!' I roared. 'Sleep, Petka,' the face rumbled, 'we'll get out here, there Zherbunov muttered something that sounded like 'too ire things still to be done. Ivan'll get you home.' young to be giving me orders', but he slung his rifle back be I glanced out of the window. We were on Tverskoi Boule- hind his shoulder. \ .ml, beside the city governor's building. Snow was falling 'Withdraw/ I said, then turned and walked into the wings. llowly in large flakes. Barbolin and the trembling semi-naked At our appearance the people who had been hiding in the Hvoman were already out on the street. Zherbunov shook my wings scattered in all directions. Zherbunov and I walked hand and got out. The car moved off. along a dark corridor, turning several corners before we I was suddenly keenly aware of how alone and vulnerable reached the rear door and found ourselves in the street, i ns in this frozen world populated by people keen either to where once again people fled from us. We walked over to the dispatch me to the Cheka or to perturb my inner soul with the automobile. After the stuffy, smoke-polluted atmosphere of dark sorcery of their obscure words. Tomorrow morning, I the hall, the clean frosty air affected me like ether fumes, my thought I will have to put a bullet through my brain. The last head began to spin and I felt a desperate need to sleep. The thing I saw before I finally collapsed into the dark pit of obliv­ driver was still sitting there motionless on the open front seat, ion was the snow-covered railing along the street, which but now he was covered with a thick layer of snow. I openedlятеup very close to the window as the automobile finally the door of the cabin and turned round. iHIned. 'Where's Barbolin?' I asked. 'He'll be along,' chuckled Zherbunov, 'just something he had to see to.' I climbed into the automobile, leaned back against the seat and instantly fell asleep. I was woken by the sound of a woman's squeals, and I saw Barbolin emerging from a side street, carrying in his arms the girl in lace panties. She was offering token resistance and the wig with the plait had slipped to one side of her face. 'Move over, comrade,' Zherbunov said to me, clambering into the cabin. 'Reinforcements.' I moved closer to the side wall. Zherbunov leaned towards me and spoke in an unexpectedly warm voice: T didn't really understand you at first, Petka. Didn't see right into your heart. But you're a good 'un. That was a fine speech you gave.' I mumbled something and fell asleep again., BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 29 protruding from his pocket. This was simply too much for me, and my chest heaved abruptly with nervous laughter 2 that erupted from my cocaine-scorched throat in an explosion of hoarse coughing. Barbolin, who was standing in front, inrned to Zherbunov and said something. 1 suddenly .lopped laughing, struck by the thought that they were going io beat me. I should say that I was not in the least bit afraid of death. In To be more precise, the railings were not simply close to the my situation to die was every bit as natural and reasonable as window, but were part of it; in fact, it appeared that they io leave a theatre that has caught fire in the middle of a lack- were bars across a small window through which a narrow lustre performance. But 1 most definitely did not want my beam of sunshine was falling directly on to my face. I tried to linal departure to be accompanied by kicks and punches from turn away from it, but that proved impossible. When I at- I >eople I hardly knew - in the depths of my soul I was clearly tempted to press one hand against the floor in order to turn not sufficiently a Christian for that. from my stomach on to my back, I found that my hands had 'Gentlemen,' I said, 'I am sure you must understand that been secured behind me: I was dressed in a garment resem- soon they will kill you too. Out of respect for death, therefore bling a shroud, the long sleeves of which were tied behind if not for mine, then at least for your own - I ask you to get my back. it over with quickly, without any unnecessary humiliation. I I felt no particular doubt as to what had happened to me. shall not be able to tell you anything, in any case. I am no The sailors must have noticed something suspicious in my more than an ordinary private citizen and .. .' behaviour, and while I was asleep in the car they had taken 'That's a bit feeble,' Zherbunov interrupted me with a me to the Cheka. By wriggling and squirming, I managed to chuckle. 'But that stuff you were giving us yesterday, that get up on to my knees and then sit down by the wall. My cell was something else. And that poetry you read! D'you re- had a rather strange appearance; up under the ceiling there member any of that?' was a small barred window - the point of entry for the ray of There was something strangely incongruous about the sunlight that had woken me - while the walls, the door, the way he spoke, something rather odd, and I decided that he floor and ceiling itself were all concealed beneath a thick must have been tippling his Baltic tea already that morning. layer of padding, which meant that romantic suicide in the 'My memory is excellent/ I replied, looking him straight in spirit of Dumas ('one more step, milord, and I dash my brains the face. out against the wall') was quite out of the question. The The emptiness in his eyes was impenetrable. Chekists had obviously built cells like this for their specially 'I don't know why you bother talking to that asshole,' Bar- honoured guests, and I must confess that for a second I was bolin hissed in his thin voice. 'Let Timurich handle it, that's flattered at the thought. what he's paid for.' A few minutes went by as 1 gazed at the wall, recalling the 'Let's go,' said Zherbunov, putting an end to the conversa- frightening details of the previous day, and then the door tion. He came over to me and took hold of my arm. swung open. 'Can you not at least untie my hands?' 1 asked. 'There are Standing in the doorway were Zherbunov and Barbolin - two of you, after all.' but, my God, how changed they were! They were dressed in 'Oh, yeah? And what if you try strangling one of us?' white doctors' coats, and Barbolin had a genuine stethoscope I cringed as though I had been struck. They knew every-, 30 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 31 thing. I had an almost physical sensation of the crushing I hrough which I could see part of his jaw and teeth as flawless weight of Zherbunov's words tumbling down on top of me. .is in an advertisement for German tooth powder. Barbolin gripped me by my other arm. They easily stood 'Get on with it, then/ the man in the white coat barked, dropping me on my feet and dragged me out into the dimly lit, de- 1 lie receiver back into its cradle. serted corridor, which did actually have a vague hospital 'I beg your pardon/1 said, lowering my eyes to look at him. smell about it, not unlike the smell of blood. I made no at- 'Granted, granted/ he said, 'bearing in mind that I already tempt to resist, and a few minutes later they pushed me into have some experience in dealing with you. Allow me to re- a large room, sat me down on a stool at its centre and with mind you that my name is Timur Timurovich.' drew. Tyotr. For obvious reasons I am not able to shake your Directly in front of me stood a large desk piled high with hand/ bureaucratic-looking files. Sitting behind the desk was a gen- 'No need for that. Well, well, Pyotr, my lad. How did you tleman of intellectual appearance wearing a white doctor's manage to get yourself into such a mess?' coat just like those of Zherbunov and Barbolin. He was listen The eyes that watched me were friendly, even sympathetic, ing attentively to a black ebonite telephone receiver squeezed and the goatee beard made him look like an idealistic sup- between his ear and his shoulder, while his hands mechani- porter of the liberal reform movement, but I knew a great cally sorted through some papers on the desk; from time to deal about the Cheka's cunning tricks, and my heart re- time he nodded, saying nothing, and he paid not the slightest mained unstirred by even the slightest flickering of trust. attention to me. Another man wearing a white doctor's coat 'I do not believe that I have got myself into any particular and green trousers with red stripes down their sides was sit- mess/ I said. 'But if that is how you choose to put things, then ting by the wall, on a chair placed between two tall windows I did not get into it on my own.' over which dusty blinds had been lowered. 'Then with whom exactly?' Something indefinite in the arrangement of the room re- This is it, I thought, it has begun. minded me of General HQ, which I had visited frequently in 'If I understand you correctly, you expect me to provide 1916, when I was trying my hopeful but inexperienced hand you with details of addresses and hiding places, but I am at patriotic journalism. But instead of a portrait of the Em- afraid I shall be obliged to disappoint you. My entire life since peror (or at the very least of that infamous Karl who had left childhood is the story of how I have shunned all company, a trail of indelible marks across half the kingdoms of Europe), and in such a context one can only speak of other people in hanging on the wall above the head of the gentleman in the terms of a general category, if you take my meaning?' white coat was something so terrible that I bit my lip, draw 'Naturally,' he said, and wrote something down on a piece ing blood. of paper. 'No doubt about that. But there is a contradiction in It was a poster, printed in the colours of the Russian flag what you say. First you tell me you didn't get into your pre- and mounted on a large piece of cardboard, depicting a blue sent condition on your own, and then you tell me you shun man with a typically Russian face. His chest had been cleaved other people.' open and the top of his skull sawn off to expose his red brain. 'Oh, come now/ I replied, crossing my legs at some risk to Despite the fact that his viscera had been extracted from his my immediate equilibrium, 'that is merely the appearance of abdomen and labelled with Latin numerals, the expression in a contradiction. The harder I try to avoid other people's com- his eyes seemed one of indifference, and his face appeared pany, the less successful I am. Incidentally, it was only quite frozen in a calm half-smile; on the other hand, perhaps that recently that I realized why this is the case. I was walking past was simply the effect created by a wide gash in his cheek, St Isaac's and I looked up at the dome - you know how it is, a, 32 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 33 frosty night, the stars shining .and I understood/ ject of our mental activity. When established connections in 'And what is the reason?' the real world collapse, the same thing happens in the human 'If one tries to run away from other people, one involuntar- psyche. And this is accompanied by the release of a colossal ily ends up actually following in their path throughout the amount of psychic energy within the enclosed space of your course of one's life. Running away does not require knowing ego. It's like a small atomic explosion. But what really matters where one is running to, only what one is running from. Which is how the energy is channelled after the explosion.' means that one constantly has to carry before one's eyes a vi- The conversation was taking a curious turn. sion of one's own prison.' 'And what channels, if I may ask, are available?' 'Yes,' said Timur Timurovich. 'Yes indeed, when I think of 'If we keep it simple, there are two. Psychic energy can the trouble I'm going to have with you, it terrifies me.' move outwards, so to speak, into the external world, striving I shrugged and raised my eyes to the poster above his head. towards objects like .well, shall we say, a leather jacket or Apparently it was not a brilliant metaphor after all, merelyaaluxury automobile. Many of your contemporaries .' medical teaching aid, perhaps something taken from an I remembered Vorblei and shuddered. T understand. anatomical atlas. Please do not continue.' 'You know,' Timur Timurovich continued, T have a lot of 'Excellent. In the other case, for one reason or another, this experience. Plenty of people pass through my hands here.' energy remains within. This is the less favourable course of 'Indeed, I do not doubt it,' I said. events. Imagine a bull locked inside a museum .' 'So let me tell you something. I'm less interested in the for- 'An excellent image.' mal diagnosis than the internal event which has prised some- 'Thank you. Well then, this museum, with its fragile and one loose from his normal socio-psychological niche. And as possibly beautiful exhibits, is your personality, your inner far as I can see, yours is a very straightforward case. You sim- world. And the bull rushing about inside it is the release of ply will not accept the new. Can you remember how old you psychic energy that you are unable to cope with. The reason are?' why you are here.' 'Of course. Twenty-six.' Me really is very clever, I thought - but what an utter 'There you are, you see. You belong to the very generation scoundrel! that was programmed for life in one socio-cultural paradigm, T can tell you more,' continued Timur Timurovich. 'I've but has found itself living in a quite different one. Do you fol- given a great deal of thought as to why some people have the low what I'm saying?' strength to start a new life - for want of a better term, we can 'Most definitely,' I replied. call them the "New Russians", although I detest that expres- 'So what we have is a prima facie internal conflict. But let me sion .' reassure you straight away that you're not the only one strug- 'Indeed, it is quite repulsive. And also inaccurate; if you are gling with this difficulty. I have a similar problem myself. quoting the revolutionary democrats of the last century, then 'Oh, really?' I exclaimed in a rather mocking tone. 'And just I believe that they called them the new people.' how do you deal with it?' 'Possibly. But the question remains the same: why do some 'We can talk about me later,' he said, 'let's try sorting you people actively strive, as it were, towards the new, while oth- out first. As I've already said, nowadays almost everyone suf- ers persist in their attempts to clarify their non-existent rela- fers from the same subconscious conflict. What 1 want you to tions with the shadows of a vanished world?' do is to recognize its nature. You know, the world around us 'Now that really is magnificent. You're a genuine poet.' is reflected in our consciousness and then it becomes the ob~ 'Thank you once again. The answer, in my view, is very, 34 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 35 simple - I'm afraid you might even find it rather primitive. talking about? The leader of the Constitutional Democrats?' Let me build up to it. The life of a man, a country, a culture Timur Timurovich smiled with emphatic politeness. 'No,' and so on, is a series of constant metamorphoses. Sometimes he said, 'his son,' they extend over a period of time and so are imperceptible, 'Little Vovka from the Tenishevsky school? You mean you sometimes they assume acute forms, as in the present case. have picked him up as well? But he's in the Crimea! And And it is precisely the attitude to these metamorphoses that what kind of nonsense is all this about little girls?' determines the fundamental difference between cultures. For 'Very well, very well. He's in the Crimea,' Timur Timuro- instance, China, the culture you are so crazy about ./ vich replied briskly. 'In the Crimea. But we were talking 'What makes you think that?' I asked, feeling my tightly about China. And the fact that for the classic Chinese mental- bound hands clench into fists behind my back. ity, any advance is bound to mean degeneration. But there is 'Your case history,' said Timur Timurovich, picking up the another path, the one followed by Europe throughout its his- very fattest of the files on his desk. T was just leafing through tory, no matter what you might tell me about language. The it.' path that Russia has been struggling to follow for so many He threw the file back down again. 'Yes, China. As you years, as it enters again and again into its ill-fated alchemical may recall, their entire world view is constructed on the prin- wedlock with the West.' ciple that the world is constantly degenerating as it moves 'Remarkable.' from a golden age towards darkness and stagnation. For Thank you. In this case the ideal is conceived not as some- them, absolute standards have been left far behind in the thing left behind in the past, but as something potentially ex- past, and all that is new is evil insofar as it leads the world isting in the future. Do you understand me? This is the idea of still further away from those standards.' development, progress, movement from the less perfect to T beg your pardon,' I said, 'but this is a typical aspect of the more perfect. The same thing occurs at the level of the in- human culture in general. It is even present in language itself. dividual personality, even if individual progress takes such In English, for instance, we are the descendants of the past. The petty forms as redecorating an apartment or changing an old word signifies movement downwards, not upwards. We are car for a new one. It makes it possible to carry on living - but not ascendants/ you don't want to pay for any of this. The metaphorical bull 'Possibly,' Timur Timurovich answered. T don't know any we were talking about rushes about in your soul, trampling foreign languages except Latin. But that's not the point here. everything in its path, precisely because you are not prepared When this type of consciousness is embodied in an individual to submit to reality. You don't want to let the bull out. You personality, then the person concerned begins to regard his despise the positions that the times require us to adopt. And childhood as a lost paradise. Take Nabokov. His endless precisely this is the cause of your tragedy.' musings on the early years of his life are a classic example of 'What you say is interesting, of course, but far too compli- what I'm talking about. And the classic example of recovery, cated/ 1 said, casting a sideways glance at the man in military of the reorientation of consciousness to the real world is the trousers over by the wall. 'And now my hands have gone contra-sublimation, as I would call it, that he achieved in such numb. As for progress, I can easily provide you with a brief a masterly fashion by transforming his longing for an unat- explanation of what that is.' tainable paradise which may never have existed at all into a 'Please do so.' simple, earthly and somewhat illegitimate passion for a little 'It is very simple. If we put everything that you were say- girl, a child. Although at first ing in a nutshell, then we are left with the simple fact that 'Excuse me,' I interrupted, 'but which Nabokov are you some people adapt themselves to change more quickly than, 36 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 37 others. But have you ever asked yourself why these changes Timur Timurovich leaned over his telephone and pressed a take place at all?' button. 'Sonya, four cc's as usual, please,' he spoke into the Timur Timurovich shrugged. receiver. 'Here in my office, while he's in the jacket. Yes, and Then let me tell you. You would not, I trust, deny that the then straight into the ward.' more cunning and dishonourable a man is, the easier his life Turning to me, Timur Timurovich sighed sadly and scratched is?' his beard. 'No, I wouldn't.' 'We'll have to continue the course of medication for the 'And his life is easier precisely because he adapts more time being/ he said. T tell you honestly, I regard it as a defeat. rapidly to change?' A small one, but nonetheless a defeat. I believe that a good 'Perhaps.' psychiatrist should avoid using medication, it's - how can I 'Well then, there exists a level of dishonourable cunning, explain it to you? - it's cosmetic. It doesn't solve any of the my dear sir, at which a man anticipates the outcome of problems, it merely conceals them from view. But in your change even before it is completed, and as a result he is able case I can't think of anything better. You'll have to help me. If to adapt far more rapidly than everyone else. But far worse you want to save a drowning man, it's not enough just to than that, the most sensitive of scoundrels actually adapt to reach out to him, he has to offer his hand too.' change before it has even begun.' The door opened behind me and I heard quiet footsteps, 'What of it?' then gentle woman's hands grasped me by the shoulder and 'In actual fact, all the changes that happen in the world I felt the small cold sting of a needle piercing my skin through only take place because of such highly sensitive scoundrels. the cloth of the strait-jacket. Because, in reality, they do not anticipate the future at all, but 'By the way/ said Timur Timurovich, rubbing his hands as shape it, by creeping across to occupy the quarter from which though to warm them, 'one small comment; in madhouse they think the wind will blow. Following which, the wind has slang the term "final shot" isn't used for what we're injecting no option but to blow from that very quarter.' you with, that is, an ordinary mixture of aminazine and 'Why is that?' perevitine. It's reserved for the so-called sulphazine cross, 'It is obvious, surely. As I told you, I am speaking of the that is, four injections in .But then, I hope we're never most villainous, sly and shameless of scoundrels. Surely you going to reach that stage/ can believe them capable of persuading everyone else that the I did not turn my head to look at the woman who had wind is blowing from the precise quarter in which they have given me the injection. I looked at the dismembered red- established themselves? Especially since this wind we are white-and-blue man on the poster, and when he began look- talking about blows only within this idiom of ours .But ing back at me, smiling and winking, I heard Timur now I am talking too much. In all honesty, I had intended to Timurovich's voice coming from somewhere very far away: keep silent right up to the final shot.' 'Yes, straight to the ward. No, he won't cause any prob- The officer sitting by the wall grunted suddenly and gave lems. There may be at least some effect .He'll be going Timur Timurovich a meaningful glance. through the same procedure himself soon enough.' T haven't introduced you,' said Timur Timurovich. 'This is Somebody's hands (I think they belonged to Zherbunov Major Smirnov, a military psychiatrist. He is here for other and Barbolin again) pulled the shirt off my body, picked me reasons, but your case has attracted his interest.' up by the arms and dumped me like a sack of sand on to T am flattered, Major,' I said, inclining my head in his di- some kind of stretcher. Then the door-frame flashed past my rection. eyes and we were in the corridor., 38 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 39 My unfeeling body floated past tall white doors with num- most unpleasant thing about this mood was that it did not bers on them, and behind me I could hear the distorted voices seem to have taken possession of me, but of some other per- and laughter of the sailors in doctors' coats, who appeared to son - the person into whom the injected substance had trans- be conducting a scurrilous conversation about women. Then formed me. I was horrified to sense that this other person I saw Timur Timurovich's face peering down at me - appar- actually could be cured. ently he had been walking along beside me. 'Of course you can recover,' Timur Timurovich confirmed. 'We've decided to put you back in the Third Section,' he 'And we will cure you, have no doubt about it. Just forget the said. 'At present there are four others in there, so you'll make very notion of a madhouse. Treat it all as an interesting ad- five. Do you know anything about Kanashnikov group ther- venture. Especially since you're a literary man. I sometimes apy? My group therapy, that is?' encounter things here that are just begging to be written 'No,' I mumbled with difficulty. down. What's coming up now, for instance - we're due for an The flickering of the doors as they passed me had become absolutely fascinating event in your ward, a group session quite unbearable, and I closed my eyes. with Maria. You do remember who I'm talking about?' 'To put it simply, it means patients pooling their efforts in I shook my head. the struggle for recovery. Imagine that for a time your prob- 'No, of course not, of course not. But it's an extremely inter- lems become the collective problems, that for a certain time esting case. I'd call it a psychodrama of genuinely Shake- everyone taking part in a session shares your condition. They spearean proportions, the clash of such apparently diverse all identify with you, so to speak. What do you think the re- objects of consciousness as a Mexican soap opera, a Hollywood sult of that would be?' blockbuster and our own young, rootless Russian democracy. I did not answer. Do you know the Mexican television serial Just Maria? So you 'It's very simple,' Timur Timurovich went on. 'When the don't remember that either. I see. Well, in a word, the patient session comes to an end, a reaction sets in as the participants has taken on the role of the heroine, Maria herself. It would be withdraw from the state that they have been experiencing as a quite banal case, if not for the subconscious identification reality; you could call it exploiting man's innate herd instinct with Russia, plus the Agamemnon complex with the anal dy- in the service of medicine. Your ideas and your mood might namics. In short, it's exactly my field, a split false identity.' infect the others taking part in the session for a certain time, Oh, God, I thought, how long the corridors here are. but as soon as the session comes to an end, they return to their 'Of course, you won't be in any fit state to take a proper own manic obsessions, leaving you isolated. And at that mo- part in the proceedings,' Timur Timurovich's voice contin- ment - provided the pathological psychic material has been ued, 'so you can sleep. But don't forget that soon it will be driven up to the surface by the process of catharsis - the pa- your turn to tell your own story.' tient can become aware of the arbitrary subjectivity of his I think we must have entered a room - a door squeaked own morbid notions and can cease to identify with them. and I caught a fragment of interrupted conversation. Timur And from that point recovery is only a short step away.' Timurovich spoke a word of greeting to the surrounding I did not follow the meaning of his words very clearly, as- darkness and several voices answered him. Meanwhile I was suming, that is, that there was any. But nonetheless, some- transferred to an invisible bed, a pillow was tucked under my thing stuck in my mind. The effect of the injection was head and a blanket thrown over me. For a while I paid atten- growing stronger and stronger. I could no longer see anything tion to the disembodied phrases that reached my ears - around me, my body had become almost totally insensitive, Timur Timurovich was explaining to somebody why I had and my spirit was immersed in a dull, heavy indifference. The been absent for so long; then I lost contact with what was, 40 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 41 happening, being visited instead by a quite momentous hal- to keep up with the conversation, but that was not impor- lucination of an intimately personal character. tant, because at the same time I began to see the wavering 1 do not know quite how long I spent alone with my con- outline of a picture - a river embankment enveloped in science, but at some point my attention was caught again by clouds of smoke and a woman with broad muscular shoul- the monotonous voice of Timur Timurovich. ders walking along it, looking more like a man dressed in 'Watch the ball closely, Maria. You are quite calm. If your women's clothes. I knew that she was called Maria and I mouth feels dry, it's only because of the injection you were could see her, and see the world through her eyes at the same given - it will soon pass. Can you hear me?' time. A moment later I realized that in some way I was per- 'Yes,' came the reply, in what seemed to me more like a ceiving everything that she was thinking and feeling: she high male voice than a low female one. was thinking that however hard she tried, this walk was 'Who are you?' never going to lead to anything; the sunny morning at the 'Maria,' answered the voice. beginning of which she had arrived in this world of suffering 'What's your surname?' had given way to this unholy mess, and it had happened so 'Just Maria,' smoothly that she had not even noticed. 'How old are you?' 'They say I look eighteen/ replied the voice. At first there was a smell of burning in the air, and Maria thought 'Do you know where you are?' that someone somewhere must be burning fallen leaves. Then 'Yes. In a hospital/ the first smell became mingled with that of scorched rubber, and 'And what brought you here?' soon she was swamped by a fog-like smoke that grew thicker 'It was the crash, what else? I don't understand how I sur- and thicker until it hid everything from sight apart from the iron vived at all. I couldn't possibly have guessed he was that kind railings along the embankment and the few yards of space im- of man.' mediately around her. 'What did you crash into?' Soon Maria felt as though she were walking through a long 'The Ostankino television tower.' hall in an art gallery: in their trite ordinariness the segments of T see. And how did it happen?' the surrounding world which appeared from time to time out of 'It's a long story.' the all-enveloping gloom looked very much like bizarrely fash- 'That's all right/ Timur Timurovich said kindly, 'we're not ioned works of modern art. Drifting out of the gloom towards her in any hurry, we have time to listen. How did it all begin?' came signboards bearing the words 'Bureau de Change', Tt began when I went for a walk along the embankment.' benches scored all over by penknives and a vast quantity of 'And where were you before that?' empty cans, bearing witness to the fact that the generation next T wasn't anywhere before that.' still chooses beer. 'All right, carry on.' Groups of agitated men carrying automatic rifles emerged 'Well then, I'm walking, you know, just walking along, and from the mist and then disappeared back into it. They pretended all around me there's some kind of smoke. And the further I not to notice Maria and she reacted in the same way. She al- go, the more there is .' ready had more than enough people to remember her and think I suddenly realized that the longer I tried to listen to the of her. How many was it - millions? Tens of millions? Maria words, the harder it was to make out their meaning. It felt as didn't know the exact number of them, but she was sure that if though the meaning were attached to them by pieces of string, all the hearts in which fate had inscribed her name were to beat which kept getting longer and longer. I found myself unable in unison, then their combined beating would be much louder, 42 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 43 than the deafening explosions she could hear from the other For a second a puff of wind dispersed the smoke surrounding side of the river. Maria and a ray of sunshine fell on her. Shielding her face with Maria looked round and screwed up her radiant eyes as she her hand, she suddenly understood where she should seek the tried to understand what was going on. answer. Of course, it lay in those innumerable hearts and minds Every now and then from somewhere close by - because of that had summoned her and incarnated her here, on this smoky the smoke she couldn't see exactly where - there was a thun- embankment. Through the millions of pairs of eyes staring at derous crash; the booming sound was followed immediately by their television screens, they were fused into a single oceanic the barking of dogs and the roaring of a multitude of voices, like consciousness, and this entire ocean lay open to her gaze. She the noise from the crowd when a goal is scored at the stadium, looked across it, at first seeing nothing that might help her. But Maria didn't know what to make of it. Perhaps they were shoot- no, of course there was an image of all-conquering power re- ing a film near the White House on the other bank of the river, or flected in this consciousness, and in most cases its form was perhaps some new Russians were squabbling about which of much the same: the figure of a young man with a small head them was the newest. I wish they'd get on with it and finish di- and wide shoulders, wearing a double-breasted crimson sports viding everything up, she thought. How many more of our hand- jacket and standing beside a long, low-slung automobile with some young men must we see fall on the roadway and spill out his feet planted wide apart. The image of the automobile was a their heart's blood on the asphalt? little bit vague and somehow blurred, because all the people Maria began thinking about how she could lighten the un- whose souls Maria could see imagined it in different ways. The bearable burden of this life for everyone who was writhing, God young man's face was much the same, it was a very generalized knows for what reason, in the grip of these black coils of smoke face, and only the hairstyle, a slightly curly chestnut-brown that obscured the sky and the sun. Her head was filled with crew cut, was rather more clearly defined. The jacket, however, clear, bright, uncomplicated images - there she was in a simple was drawn with quite remarkable precision, and with a little ef- dress, entering a modest flat tidied specially for the occasion by fort Maria could even have managed to read the words on its its occupants. And there they were, sitting at the table with the gold buttons. But she didn't try. it didn't matter what was writ- samovar and gazing at her lovingly, and she knew that she ten on the buttons, what mattered was how this all-conquering didn't have to say anything, all she had to do was sit opposite power could be united with her own meek and gentle love. them and gaze tenderly back, paying as little attention as she Maria stopped and leaned on one of the low granite posts that could to the whirring of the camera. And there was a hospital punctuated the iron railings of the fence. Once again she had to ward full of people all bandaged up and lying on uncomfortable seek an answer in the minds and hearts that had placed their beds, and there was her image hanging on the wall in a place trust in her, but this time - Maria was quite certain of this - the where everyone could see it. They gazed at her from their beds lowest common denominators of thought would not do. What and for a while they forgot all about their woes, their aches and was needed .pa ins .There must be at least one intelligent woman out there, she This was all wonderful, but she vaguely realized that it was not thought. enough. No, what the world needed was a strong hand, stern and And the intelligent woman appeared almost immediately. unrelenting, capable of resisting evil whenever the need arose. Maria didn't know who she was, or even what she looked like, But where was this strength to be found? And what would it look she just caught a glimpse of tall bookshelves, a desk with heaps like? These were questions Maria couldn't answer, but she of papers and a typewriter, and a photograph hanging over the sensed that they were the very reason why she was walking along desk showing a man with an enormous curling moustache and this embankment in this city that was expiring in its suffering. intense, moody eyes. It was all in flickering, hazy black and, 44 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 45 white, as though Maria were viewing it from inside an ancient two gleaming yellow rings, one larger and one smaller. television with a screen the size of a cigarette packet that was Maria watched the 'Chaika* as it drove away, then suddenly standing somewhere off in the corner of the room. But the im- slapped herself on the forehead. But of course, now she under- ages disappeared too quickly for Maria to reflect on what she stood. Yes - that was it. Two interlinked rings - Bridegroom, Vis- had seen, and then they were replaced by thoughts. itor, Sponsor. She still couldn't understand what alchemical Maria understood almost nothing at all in the swirling vortex wedlock was supposed to be, but if anything untoward hap- of ideas that appeared before her; apart from anything else, it pened, she had a good lawyer. Maria shook her head and was somehow musty and oppressive, like the cloud that ap- smiled. It was so simple, how could she have failed to see the pears when you disturb the dust of a long-forgotten lumber most important thing of all for so long? What could she have room. Maria decided she must be dealing with a consciousness been thinking of? that was extremely cluttered and not entirely normal, and she She looked around, orientating herself approximately by the felt very relieved when it was all over. The catch netted by the sun, and held out her arms towards the West - somehow it pink void of her soul consisted of words whose meanings were seemed clear that the Bridegroom would appear from that di- not entirely clear-there was a brief glimpse of the word 'Bride- rection. groom' (for some reason, with a capital letter), and then the 'Come!' she prayed in a whisper, and immediately she could word 'Visitor* (another capital letter), followed by the incompre- sense that a new presence had appeared in the world. hensible words 'Alchemical Wedlock' and after that the totally Now all she had to do was wait for the meeting to take place. obscure phrase, sounding like a snatch of Silver Age poetry: 'all She ran on joyfully, sensing the distance between herself and repose is vain, I knock at the gates'. With this the thoughts the Bridegroom diminishing. Like her, he already knew, he was ended, and then there was another brief glimpse of the man walking towards her along this very embankment - but unlike with the ecstatic eyes and the long, droopy moustache which her he wasn't hurrying, because it wasn't in his nature to hurry. looked like a beard growing from right under his nose. Miraculously managing to leap across an open manhole that She looked around her in bewilderment. Still more or less sur- appeared suddenly out of the smoke, Maria slowed down and rounded by smoke, she thought that perhaps somewhere close began feverishly rummaging in her pockets. She had suddenly by there might be a gate she was supposed to knock at, and she realized that she had no mirror and no make-up with her. For a took several timid steps through the murk. Immediately she was moment she was plunged into despair, and she even tried to re- enveloped by total darkness on every side, and felt so afraid call whether she had passed a puddle in which she could view that she scurried back on to the embankment, where at least a her own reflection. But then, when she remembered that she little light remained. could appear to her beloved in whatever form she wished, And if I do knock, she thought, will anybody actually open the Maria's despair vanished as quickly as it had appeared. gate? Hardly. She thought about this for a while. Let him see a very young Behind her Maria heard the quiet growling of a car engine. girl, she decided, with two ginger plaits, a freckled face and .She pressed herself against the railings of the embankment and and .She needed some final touch, some naive and endearing waited apprehensively to see what would emerge from the detail -perhaps earrings? A baseball cap? Maria had almost no smoke. Several seconds went by, and then a long black automo- time left, and at the very final moment she adorned herself with bile slowly swam past her, a 'Chaika' decorated with ribbons of padded pink earphones which looked like a continuation of the various colours - she realized it was a wedding car. It was full of flame-bright flush of her cheeks. Then she raised her eyes and silent, serious-looking people; the barrels of several automatic looked ahead. rifles protruded from the windows and on the roof there were In front of her, among the tattered wisps of smoke, something, 46 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 47 metallic gleamed for a moment and then immediately vanished. Maria opened her mouth to say something, but suddenly she Then it appeared a little closer, only to be concealed again in the realized she had absolutely nothing to say. Schwarzenegger car- murk. A sudden gust of wind drove the smoke aside and Maria ried on looking at her and smiling. Maria lowered her gaze and saw a tall glittering figure advancing slowly towards her. At the blushed, and then, with a gentle but irresistibly powerful move- same moment she noticed, or so she thought, that with every ment, Schwarzenegger turned her round and led her away beside step the figure took the ground shook. The metal man was much him. Maria looked up at him and smiled her famous stupid-mys- taller than her and his impassively handsome face expressed terious smile. Schwarzenegger put his hand on her shoulder. not the slightest trace of emotion. Maria was frightened and Maria sank slightly under the weight, and suddenly her memory stumbled backwards - she remembered that somewhere behind threw up something unexpected, a picture of Lenin carrying a her there was an open manhole, but she couldn't tear her eyes beam at one of those communist working Saturdays. In the pic- away from the metal torso bearing down on her like the bow of ture only the edge of the beam could be seen above Lenin's some immense destroyer approaching an ice floe. shoulder and Maria thought that perhaps it wasn't a beam after At the very moment when she was about to scream, the metal all, but the hand of some mighty creature at which Lenin could man underwent an astonishing transformation. First of all his only glance up with a defenceless smile, as she was now glanc- gleaming thighs were suddenly clad in very domestic-looking ing up at Schwarzenegger. But a moment later Maria realized striped underpants, then he acquired a white vest and his body that such thoughts were entirely out of place, and she promptly took on the normal colour of tanned human skin and was banished them from her mind. promptly clad in canary-yellow trousers, a shirt and tie and a Schwarzenegger turned his face towards her. wonderful crimson sports jacket with gold buttons. That was 'Your eyes,* he intoned monotonously, 'are like a landscape of enough to lay Maria's fears to rest. But the delightful sight of the dreamy south.* the crimson jacket was soon concealed beneath a long grey Maria trembled in surprise. She hadn't been expecting words raincoat. Black shoes appeared on the Visitor's feet and sun- like these, and Schwarzenegger seemed to understand this im- glasses with glittering lenses on his face, his hair set itself into mediately. Then something strange happened - or perhaps it a gingerish crew cut and Maria's heart skipped a beat for joy didn't really happen, and Maria simply imagined the faint red when she recognized that her bridegroom was Arnold letters flickering across the inside surface of Schwarzenegger's Schwarzenegger - but then she realized it could never have glasses, like running titles on a TV screen, and the soft whirring been anyone else. sound inside his head, as though a computer hard disk drive had He stood there saying nothing and staring at her with those been switched on. Maria started in fright, but then she remem- black rectangles of glass; the ghost of a smile played about his bered that Schwarzenegger, like herself, was a purely conven- lips. Maria caught a glimpse of her reflection in his glasses and tional being woven by the thousands of individual Russian adjusted her earphones. consciousnesses which were thinking about him at that very 'Ave Maria,' said Schwarzenegger quietly. second - and that different people could have very different He spoke without expression, in a voice that was hollow but thoughts about him. pleasant. Schwarzenegger raised his empty hand in front of him and 'No, my sweet,' said Maria, smiling mysteriously and clasping flicked his fingers in the air as he looked for the right words. her hands together over her breast, 'just Maria.' 'No,' he said at last, 'your eyes aren't eyes - they're orbs!' 'Just Maria,' Schwarzenegger repeated. Maria clung tightly to him and looked up trustingly. 'Yes,* said Maria. 'And you're Arnold?' Schwarzenegger tucked his chin into his neck, as though to pre- 'Sure,' said Schwarzenegger. vent Maria from seeing under his glasses., 48 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 49 'There's a lot of smoke here,' he said, 'why are we walking the limp body away beyond the bounds of their vision. His hand along this embankment?' returned to Maria's shoulder, and Maria pressed herself against *l don't know,' answered Maria. his monumental torso. Schwarzenegger turned round and led her away from the rail- 'Ah, men, men,' she cooed softly. ings, straight into the smoke. After they'd gone a few steps Gradually the smoke began to disperse until once again Maria Maria felt frightened: the smoke was so thick now that she could see Schwarzenegger's face, and then the entire massive couldn't see anything, not even Schwarzenegger - all she could body, concealed beneath the light grey shroud of the raincoat make out was his hand where it clutched her shoulder. like a monument waiting to be unveiled. 'Where's all this smoke from?' asked Maria. 'Nothing seems 'Arnold,' she asked, 'where are we going?' to be burning.' 'Don't you know?' said Schwarzenegger. 'C-N-N,' Schwarzenegger replied. Maria blushed and lowered her eyes. 'You mean they're burning something?' What is an alchemical wedlock, though? she thought. And will 'No,' said Schwarzenegger, 'they're shooting something.' it hurt me, I wonder? Afterwards, I mean? I've been hurt so many Aha, thought Maria, probably everybody who was thinking times before. about her and Schwarzenegger was watching CNN, and CNN was showing some kind of smokescreen. But what a long time Looking up at him she saw the famous dimples in his cheeks - they were showing it for. Schwarzenegger was smiling. Maria closed her eyes and walked 'It's okay,' said the invisible Schwarzenegger, 'it'll soon be on, hardly daring to believe in her own happiness, guided by the over.' hand that lay on her shoulder. But there seemed to be no end to the smoke, and they were When Schwarzenegger stopped, she opened her eyes and saw getting further and further away from the embankment. Maria that the smoke had almost completely disappeared. They were suddenly had the terrible thought that for several minutes standing on a street she didn't recognize, between rows of old someone else could have been walking along beside her instead houses faced with granite. The street was deserted except for a of Schwarzenegger, perhaps even the being that had put its arm few stooped figures with automatic rifles darting about aimlessly round Lenin's shoulder in that same picture, and this thought in the distance, nearer the embankment which was still hidden be- frightened her so badly that she automatically adjusted her ear- hind a pall of smoke. Schwarzenegger seemed to loiter in an odd, phones and switched on the music. The music was strcnge, indecisive fashion, giving Maria the impression that he was tor- chopped into small incoherent fragments. No sooner had the mented by some strange kind of doubt, and she was frightened at guitars and trumpets launched into a sweet song of love than the thought that the doubt might concern her. they were swamped by a sudden electronic wailing, like the I have to say something romantic quickly, she thought. But howling of wolves. But anything was better than listening to the what exactly? I suppose it doesn't really matter. sound of distant explosions from the area of the parliament 'You know, Arnold,' she said, squeezing herself against his building and the indistinct hubbub of human voices. side, 'I suddenly .I don't know, perhaps you'll think it's silly Suddenly a figure came hurtling straight at Maria out of the .I can be honest with you, can't I?' smoke so that she shrieked in fright. In front of her she saw a 'Of course,' said Schwarzenegger, turning his black lenses to- man in blotchy camouflage fatigues, carrying an automatic rifle. wards her. He looked up at Maria and opened his mouth to speak, but then 'When I'm with you, I want so much to soar up into the sky! I Schwarzenegger took his hand from Maria's shoulder, grabbed feel as though the sky is so very close!' hold of the man's head, twisted it gently to one side and tossed Schwarzenegger raised his head and looked upwards. There actually were glimpses of bright blue sky between the, 50 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 51 streams of smoke. It didn't seem particularly close, but then nei- that somewhere here, quickly and rather awkwardly, their al- ther was it that far away. chemical wedlock would probably be consummated, when sud- Ah, thought Maria, what nonsense I do talk. denly the passageway led out into an empty space surrounded But it was too late to stop now. on all sides by sheet-iron walls of various colours and heights. 'What about you, Arnold, wouldn't you like to soar up into the The space wasn't entirely empty, though. Beneath their feet sky?' lay the usual collection of bottles, and there were a couple of old Schwarzenegger thought for a second. car tyres, a crumpled door from a Lada and other assorted quasi- 'Yes,* he said. mechanical garbage of the kind that always accumulates beside 'And will you take me with you? You know, I .- Maria garages. smiled shyly - 'I'm so very earthbound.' And, next to them, there was a jet fighter. Schwarzenegger thought for another second. Although it took up almost all of the space, it was the very last 'Okay,' he said. 'I'll take you up into the sky.' thing that Maria noticed, probably because for several seconds He looked around, as though he were trying to locate land- her brain filtered out the signals it was receiving from her eyes marks that only he knew, and then he seemed to have found as a hallucination. Maria felt afraid. them, because he grabbed Maria decisively by the arm and How could a plane get in here? she thought. On the other dragged her onwards. Maria was startled by this sudden transi- hand, how could Schwarzenegger have got here? But even so, tion from poetic abstraction to concrete action, but then she re- this is really strange. alized that this was the way real men were supposed to behave. 'What is it?' she asked. Schwarzenegger dragged her along the facade of a long 'A model A-4 "Harrier" jump-jet vertical take-off and landing Stalin-era apartment block. After a few steps she managed to pursuit craft,' said Schwarzenegger. adjust to his rapid stride and began trotting along beside him, Maria saw the famous dimples in his cheeks again - holding on to the sleeve of his raincoat. She sensed that if she Schwarzenegger was smiling. She frowned slightly, drawing her slowed her pace at all, Schwarzenegger's arm would change frizzy eyebrows together, and the fear in her heart was replaced from a gallantly proffered fulcrum into a steel lever that would by a feeling of jealousy for this immense insect of glass and drag her implacably along the pavement, and for some reason metal, which clearly occupied quite as important a place in the thought filled her with a feeling of boundless happiness that Schwarzenegger's heart as she did herself. sprang from the very depths of her belly and spread in warm He approached the plane. Sunk in thought, Maria remained waves throughout her body. standing on the spot until she was jerked forward in turn - rather On reaching the end of the building, Schwarzenegger turned as if Schwarzenegger were a tractor and she were some piece of through an arch. Once in the courtyard of the building, Maria felt agricultural machinery casually hooked on to it. as though they had been transported to a different city. Here the 'But there's only room for one,' she said when she caught peace of the morning was still unbroken; there was no smoke to sight of the back of the seat through the glass canopy. be seen, and it was hard to believe that somewhere close at 'Don't worry,' said Schwarzenegger, and in a single light hand there were crazy people dashing about shooting off their movement he lifted her up and sat her on the wing. automatic rifles. Maria drew in her legs and stood up on the angled aluminium Schwarzenegger definitely knew where he was taking Maria. surface. A gust of wind fluttered through her clothes, and she They made their way round a small children's playground with thought how well romantic roles had always suited her. swings and dived into a labyrinth of narrow alleys between rust- 'What about you?' she asked. ing garages. Maria was thinking with sweet terror in her heart But Schwarzenegger was already in the cockpit. He had, 52 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 53 clambered in with amazing speed and agility, and Maria real- had just been taken out of the fridge. She was feeling worse and ized it must have been a montage sequence or a piece of slick worse about what was happening. editing. He stuck his head out of the cabin and smiled, gesturing 'Arnold,* she called, 'are you sure we ought to do this?' to her with his thumb and forefinger joined to form a ring; Maria She usually reserved these words for entirely different cir- decided she could think of it as her wedding ring. cumstances, but this time they just seemed to come out on their 'Sit on the fuselage,' said Schwarzenegger, 'at the base of the own. wings. Don't be afraid. Imagine it's a carousel. Imagine you're 'It was you who wanted to soar up into the sky,* he said, 'but sitting on one of the horses.' if you're afraid...* 'You mean, you're goingto.' 'No,* said Maria, pushing aside her fear, 'I'm not afraid in the Schwarzenegger nodded. slightest. It's just that I'm being such a bother to you.* His dark glasses gazed straight into the depths of Maria's 'No bother,' said Schwarzenegger. 'It's going to be very noisy, soul and she realized her fate was being decided right here and better put your earphones on. What is it you're listening to, any- now. She was being tested, there was no doubt about it: the way?' woman worthy of standing beside Schwarzenegger could not be 'Jihad Crimson,* said Maria, settling the small pink pads on some feeble coward good for nothing more than multi-episode her ears. domestic and sexual intrigue. She had to be able to meet mortal Schwarzenegger's face froze absolutely still. A strange flick- danger face to face without betraying her feelings with anything ering red light ran across the lenses of his dark glasses - Maria more than a smile. Maria tried adjusting her expression accord- thought it must be the reflection of the leaves falling from the ingly, but felt that the smile turned out a little contrived. maple trees that stood just behind the garages. 'Great idea,* she said. 'But won't I get cold?* 'Arnie,* she called. 'It won*t take long,* said Schwarzenegger. 'Get up.' The corner of Schwarzenegger's mouth twitched a few times, Maria shrugged and took a cautious step towards the point and then he seemed to recover the power of movement. He where the fuselage protruded above the flat surface of the turned his head with difficulty, as though it were rotating on a wings like the curved spine of a fish, and then sat down on it bearing clogged with sand. neatly. 'Crimson Jihad?* he asked. 'No,' said Schwarzenegger, 'you can ride side-saddle when 'Jihad Crimson,* answered Maria. 'Nushrat Fatekh Ali Khan and we go to my ranch in California. Right now you had better sit the Robert Fripp. Why?* ordinary way, or the wind'll blow you off.' 'Nothing,' said Schwarzenegger, 'it's not important.' Maria hesitated for a moment. 'Look the other way,' she said. His head disappeared into the cockpit. Underneath her, Schwarzenegger smiled with the left corner of his mouth and somewhere deep in the plane's metal belly, she heard an elec- turned away. Maria threw her leg over the aluminium crest and trical hum that expanded in the space of just a few seconds into straddled the fuselage. Underneath her the metal was cold and a monstrous loud roaring until it seemed to Maria that she could slightly damp with dew; she hoisted herself up slightly in order feel the foam-plastic pads being forced into her ears. Then she to tuck the hem of her jacket underneath her, and suddenly had was tilted smoothly over to one side and the garages drifted the strange sensation that the very tenderest parts of her body down and away behind her. had been flattened across the angular hips of a metal man lying Swaying from side to side like a boat, the Harrier rose up verti- on his back - some mutant cross between the iron Dzerzhinsky cally into the air - Maria had not even been aware that aero- toppled by the wind of change and a robot from hell. She shud- planes could fly like that. She thought that if she closed her eyes dered, but the brief hallucination disappeared abruptly, to be re- it might be less frightening, but her curiosity proved stronger placed by the feeling that she was sitting on a frying-pan which, 54 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 55 than her fear, and in less than a minute she had opened them the plane were alive and the antenna were its most sensitive again. part. Maria ran her hand along the steel rod and squeezed its The first thing she saw was a window moving straight towards upper part tight in her fist. The Harrier twitched its wings ner- her. It was so close already that Maria had a perfectly clear view vously and rose a few yards higher. Maria thought to herself of a tank turning the muzzle of its gun in her direction from the that the plane was behaving exactly like a man tied to a bed, un- screen of the television in the room. The tank on the screen able to take her in his arms, incapable of anything but twitching fired, and at that precise moment the plane banked steeply and and jerking his entire body. The similarity was enhanced by the soared away from the wall. Maria almost slid across on to the fact that she was sitting just behind the wings, which looked like wing, and she squealed in fear, but the plane soon righted itself. a pair of wide-spread legs, incredibly muscly, but quite inca- 'Hold on to the antenna!' shouted Schwarzenegger, poking pable of movement. his head out of the cabin and waving to her. This was certainly amusing, but it was all a bit too compli- Maria looked down. Protruding out of the fuselage directly in cated. Instead of this huge steel bird, Maria would have pre- front of her was a long metal form with a rounded, slightly ferred to have come across an ordinary camp-bed in the empty swollen tip - it was strange that she hadn't noticed it before. It space between the garages. But then, she thought, with looked like a narrow vertical wing, and it immediately roused Schwarzenegger it couldn't really have been any other way. She immodest associations in Maria's mind, although its dimen- glanced at the cockpit. She couldn't see much, because the sun sions were significantly larger than any encountered in real life. was reflected in the glass, but he seemed to be sitting there, One glance at this powerful protuberance was enough to quell moving his head gently from side to side in time with the move- her fear and replace it with a joyful inspiration that had always ment of her hand. been so lacking with all those languid Miguels and drunken Meanwhile, the plane was rising higher and higher. The roofs Ivans from the television. of the houses were now far below them, and Maria had a mag- Everything was quite different this time. The rounded swelling nificent panoramic view of the city of Moscow. -at the tip of the antenna was covered with small holes which re- There were church domes gleaming on all sides, making the minded her slightly of a shower head and at the same time set city look like an immense biker's jacket embellished at random her thinking of strange, non-terrestrial forms of life and love. Maria pointed to it and glanced inquiringly at Schwarzenegger. with a remarkable quantity of studs and rivets. There was far He nodded and gave a broad smile, and the sun glinted on his less smoke hanging over Moscow than Maria had imagined from teeth. down below on the embankment; though some was still visible here and there above the houses, it wasn't always clear whether Maria decided that what was happening to her now must be a childhood dream coming true. In some film or other she had it was a fire, pollution from factory chimneys or simply low spent a lot of time poring over fairy-tales in books, looking at cloud. the pictures and imagining herself flying through the sky on the Despite the revolting ugliness of each of its component parts, back of a dragon or a huge bird, and now it was actually hap- viewed as a whole the city looked extremely beautiful, but the pening. Maybe not exactly the way she'd dreamed it, but then, source of this beauty was beyond all understanding. That's al- she thought as she laid her palm on the steel projection of the ways the way with Russia, thought Maria, as she ran her hands antenna, dreams don't always come true in the way we expect. up and down the cold steel - when you see it from afar, it's so The plane banked slightly and Maria noticed it was obviously beautiful it's enough to make you cry, but when you take a responding to her touching the antenna. More than that, the closer look, you just want to puke. movement seemed to her to be incredibly animated, as though The plane suddenly jerked beneath her, and she felt the upper part of the steel rod dangling loosely in her hand. She jerked her, 56 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 57 hand away, and immediately the metal knob with the small socket surrounded by streaks of dried blood. A beam of blinding holes fell away from the antenna, struck the fuselage and flew red light shone directly out from the centre of the lens - Maria off into space; the powerful protuberance was reduced to a only noticed it when the beam shone into her own eyes. short hollow tube with a screw thread around its top, with the Schwarzenegger smiled, and the left side of his face ex- torn blue and red strands of two wires twisted together protrud- pressed exactly what the face of Arnold Schwarzenegger is sup- ing from its end. posed to express when it smiles - an indefinable boyish quality Maria glanced in the direction of the cockpit. Through the between mischief and cunning, immediately making it clear that glass she could make out the blond back of Schwarzenegger's this is a man who will never do anything bad, and if he should motionless head. At first she thought that he hadn't noticed happen to kill a few assholes now and then, it's not until the anything. Then she thought he must have fainted. She looked camera has repeatedly revealed from several different angles around in confusion, saw that the nose of the plane was waver- what despicable trash they are. But the smile only affected the ing uncertainly, and immediately her suspicion hardened into left side of his face, the right side remained absolutely un- certainty. Hardly even aware of what she was doing, she changed - cold, focused and terrifying. slumped down from the fuselage on to the small flat area be- 'Arnold,* Maria said in confusion, rising to her feet. 'What are tween the wings (the stump of the antenna ripped her jacket as you doing that for? Stop it!* she fell) and crawled towards the cockpit. But Schwarzenegger didn't answer, and a moment later the The cockpit was open. Lying there on the wing, Maria propped plane banked steeply and Maria was sent tumbling along the herself up and shouted: wing. On the way she banged her face several times against var- 'Arnie! Arnie!' ious protruding objects, and then suddenly there was nothing There was no answer. She fearfully manoeuvred herself on to holding her up any longer. She decided she must be falling and all fours and saw the back of his head with a single lock of hair squeezed her eyes shut in order not to see the trees and roofs fluttering in the wind. hurtling up towards her, but several seconds went by and noth- 'Arnie!* she called again. ing happened. Maria realized that the roaring of the engine was Schwarzenegger turned to face her. still as close to her as ever and she opened her eyes again. 'Thank God!* Maria exclaimed. She was hanging under the wing. The hood of her jacket had Schwarzenegger took off his glasses. snagged on the empennage of some protrusion, which she rec- His left eye was half-closed in a way that expressed an ab- ognized with some effort as a rocket. The sight of the rocket's solutely clear and at the same time immeasurably complex swollen head rather reminded her of the antenna she had been range of feelings, including a strictly proportioned mixture of handling just a few minutes earlier, and she decided passion for life, strength, a healthy love for children, moral sup- Schwarzenegger must be continuing with his loveplay. But this port for the American automobile industry in its difficult strug- was too much - her face was probably covered in bruises, and gle with the Japanese, acknowledgement of the rights of sexual she could taste the blood from a cut on her lip. minorities, a slightly ironical attitude towards feminism and the 'Arnold,' she yelled, waving her arms furiously in an attempt calm assurance that democracy and judaeo-Christian values to turn towards the cockpit, 'stop it! I don't want to do this! Do would eventually conquer all evil in this world. you hear me? I don't want to!' But his right eye was quite different. It could hardly even be She finally managed to catch a glimpse of the cockpit and called an eye. A round glass lens looking like a huge wall-eye, Schwarzenegger's smiling face. set in a complicated metal holder connected to wires that ran 1 don't want to do this, d*you hear me? It's hurting me that out from under the skin, peered out at Maria from a tattered way!', VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 59 'You won't?' he asked. 'Yes,' agreed the colonel, 'the chair's even broken.' 'No! No!' 'Precisely,' agreed Timur Timurovich. 'When blocked 'Okay,' said Schwarzenegger. 'You're fired.' pathological material rises to the surface of consciousness it A moment later his face zoomed back and away from Maria as has to overcome powerful resistance, and so it often produces she was thrust ahead of the plane by a force of unimaginable visions of catastrophes or conflicts of various kinds, as we've power; in just a few seconds the plane was transformed into a just seen. It's the clearest possible sign that we're working tiny silver bird which was connected to her only by a long streak along the right lines.' of smoke. Maria turned her head to see where she was going 'Maybe it's just the shell-shock?' said the colonel. and saw the spire of the Ostankino television tower veering to- 'What shell-shock?' wards her. The swollen lump at its centre grew rapidly as she 'What, didn't I tell you about that? Well, when they were watched and a split second before the impact came Maria had a shelling the White House, a few of the shells went straight clear view of some men in white shirts and ties sitting at a table through, in the windows on one side and out of the windows and gazing at her in amazement through a thick pane of glass. on the other. And one of them landed in a flat just at the very moment when There was the ringing sound of a glass shattering and then The colonel leaned over to Timur Timurovich and whis- something heavy fell to the floor. Someone started crying pered something in his ear. 'Well, of course ..' - 1 could just loudly. make out odd words here and there - ' smithereens .'Careful, careful/ said Timur Timurovich. 'There now, under security with the corpses at first, and then we saw that's better.' something moving .Massive concussion, obviously.' Realizing that it was all over, I opened my eyes. By this 'But why on earth have you kept this to yourself for so time I could more or less see. Everything close to me was long, my good fellow? It changes the entire picture,' said quite distinct, but objects further away shifted and blurred, Timur Timurovich reproachfully. 'I've been struggling so and the overall perspective was as though I were sitting in- hard .. / side a large Christmas-tree decoration with the outside world He leaned down over me, parted one of my eyelids with daubed on its inner surface. Timur Timurovich and Colonel two fat fingers and looked into my eye. 'How about you?' Smirnov towered up over me like twin cliffs. I 'm not quite sure/ I replied. 'Of course, it was not the 'Well,' said someone in the corner. 'So much for Arnold most interesting vision 1 have ever had, but 1 .How can I Schwarzenegger and Just Maria.' put it? 1 found the dreamlike facility with which these deliri- T would like to point out,' said Colonel Smirnov, clearing ous ravings acquired for several minutes the status of reality his throat and turning to Timur Timurovich, 'the distinctly quite amusing.' phallic relevance of the fact that the patient sees dicks every- 'How do you like that?' asked Timur Timurovich, turning where. Did you notice that? The antenna, the rocket, the Os- to Colonel Smirnov. tankino tower?' The colonel nodded without speaking. 'You military men always take things too literally/ replied My dear fellow, I was not inquiring as to your opinion, but Timur Timurovich. 'Not everything's that simple. Russia can- your condition/ said Timur Timurovich. not be grasped by logic, as the saying goes - but neither can it \ feel quite well, thank you,' I replied. 'But I am sleepy.' be entirely reduced to sexual neurosis. Let's not be too hasty. This was no more than the simple truth. What's important here is that the cathartic effect is quite evi- Then sleep.' dent, even if it is attenuated.' He turned away from me., 60 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 61 Tomorrow morning/ he said to an invisible nurse, 'please kerosene and set fire to it. Into the flames he threw the crim- give Pyotr four cc's of taurepam immediately before the hy- son jacket, the dark glasses and the canary-yellow trousers, draulic procedures/ until he was left wearing nothing but the skimpy trunks. Rip- 'Can we have the radio on?' asked a quiet voice in the cor- pling his magnificently developed muscles he searched for ner. something in the bushes for a long time, but failed to find it. Timur Timurovich clicked a switch on the wall, took the Then there was a gap in my dream, and the next time I saw colonel by the arm and led him in the direction of the door. I him - horror of horrors! - he was pregnant: the encounter closed my eyes and realized that I did not have enough with Maria had obviously not been without its consequences. strength to open them again. At that precise moment he was transformed into a terrifying 'Sometimes I think that all our soldiers brave/ a man began metal figure with a sketchy mask in place of a face, and the singing in a mournful voice, 'Who fell on battle's bloody hills sun glinted furiously on his swollen belly. and plains, Were never buried in their native graves, But turned into a soaring flight of cranes .' At these final words turmoil broke out in the ward. 'Keep tight hold of Serdyuk!' yelled a voice right beside my ear. 'Who put those blasted cranes on? Have you forgotten, or what?' Tt was you asked for it to be turned on,' answered another voice. 'Let's change channels.' There was another click. Ts the time now past/ an ingratiating voice asked from the ceiling, 'when Russian pop music was synonymous with provincialism? Here's the chance to judge for yourself. The "Inflamed Ovaries" are a rare kind of Russian pop group, consisting entirely of women whose stage gear weighs as much as a "T-90" tank. Despite such ultra-modern features, the "Inflamed Ovaries" play mostly classical music, but in their own interpretation. Listen to what the girls make of a simple fugue in F by the Austrian composer Mozart, who is well known to many of our listeners from the cream liqueur that bears the same name, which can be bought wholesale from our sponsor, the trading firm "Third Eye"/ I heard the beginning of wild music, like the wind howling in a prison chimney, but I was already, thank God, only half- conscious. At first I was overwhelmed by tormenting thoughts about what was happening, and then I had a brief nightmare about an American wearing dark glasses which seemed to continue the story told by the unfortunate Maria. The American landed his plane in a yard, soaked it with, BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 63 in the rays of the winter sun. Directly opposite my window on the other side of the boulevard I could see a dome clad in tin-plate, which for some reason reminded me of the belly of .i huge metal woman in childbirth. Suddenly 1 realized that I had not been dreaming the music I could hear it playing clearly just beyond the wall I began trying to grasp how I had come to be here and suddenly; like an electric shock, yesterday's memories came flooding back in The melody seemed at first to be floating up the staircase to a single second, and I realized that 1 was in Vorblei's apart- wards me, briefly marking time before it dashed in despera- ment. I leapt up from the bed, dashed across to the door and tion on to the landing - that was when 1 could hear the short froze. moments of quietness between its sounds, Then the pianist's On the other side of that wall, in the room where I had left fingers picked up the tune, set it back on the steps, and the Vorblei, not only was someone playing the grand piano - whole thing was repeated one flight of stairs lower. The place I hey were playing the very Mozart F Minor fugue which co- where all this was taking place seemed very much like the < aine and melancholia had drawn to the surface of my own staircase in house number eight on Tverskoi Boulevard, ex- mind only the evening before. The world quite literally went cept that in my dream the staircase extended upwards and dark before my eyes as I imagined the cadaver pounding downwards as far as the eye could see and was clearly infinite. woodenly on the keys, fingers protruding from beneath the I suddenly understood that every melody has its own precise (oat which 1 had thrown over him, and I realized that the meaning, and that this was one of the proofs of the metaphys- previous day's nightmare was not yet over. Glancing round ical impossibility of suicide - not of its sinfulness, but pre- the room I spotted a large wooden crucifix hanging on the cisely of its impossibility. And 1 felt that all of us are nothing wall, with a small, elegant silver figure of Christ, the sight of more than sounds drifting through the air from the fingers of which briefly induced in me the strangest sense of dejci vu, as some unknown pianist, nothing more than short thirds, though I had seen this metal body in some recent dream. I smooth sixths and dissonant sevenths in a mighty symphony took down the crucifix, drew my Mauser and tiptoed out into which none of us can ever hear in its entirety. This thought in- the corridor. My approximate reasoning was that, if I could duced a profound sadness in me, which remained in my heart accept that a dead man could play the piano, then there was as I came plummeting out of the leaden clouds of sleep. some likelihood that he might be afraid of the cross. For several seconds I struggled to understand where 1 ac- The door into the room where the piano was playing stood tually was and what was taking place in this strange world ajar. Trying to tread as quietly as possible, I went up to it and into which some unknown force had been thrusting me every glanced inside, but I could see no more than the edge of the morning for the past twenty-six years. I was dressed in a grand piano. I took several deep breaths and then kicked heavy jacket of black leather, riding breeches and boots, and open the door and stepped into the room, grasping the heavy there was a pain in my hip where something was sticking into cross in one hand and holding my gun ready to shoot in the me. I turned over on to my side, reached under my leg and other. The first things I saw were Vorblei's boots protruding felt the holster with the Mauser, and then I looked around from the corner; he was still lying at peace under his grey me. Above my head hung a silk canopy with astoundingly Fnglish shroud. beautiful yellow tassels. The sky outside the window wasaIturned towards the piano. cloudless blue, and the roofs in the distance glowed a dull red Sitting at the keyboard was the man in the black military, 64 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 65 tunic whom I had seen the day before in the 'Musical Snuff- human body. It has always seemed to me that the perfection box'. He appeared to be about fifty years old, with a thick of a melody would have been far more appropriate - a black handlebar moustache and a sprinkling of grey at his melody that one could listen to on and on for ever.' temples. He gave no sign of having noticed my appearance; 'Who are you?' I asked. his eyes were closed as though he were entirely absorbed in 'My name is Chapaev,' the stranger replied. the music, and his playing was truly excellent. Lying on the T am afraid it means nothing to me,' I said. lid of the piano I saw a tall hat of the finest astrakhan fur with 'Which is precisely why I use it/ he said. 'My full name is a red ribbon of watered silk and a sabre of an unusual form in Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev. I trust that means even less to you?' a magnificent scabbard. He rose from the stool and stretched himself. As he did so 'Good morning,' I said, lowering the Mauser. his joints gave out a loud cracking sound. I caught a slight The man at the piano raised his eyelids and looked me up whiff of expensive English eau-de-Cologne. and down. His eyes were black and piercing, and it cost me a 'Yesterday/ he said, looking intently at me, 'you left your certain effort to withstand their almost physical pressure. travelling bag behind at the "Musical Snuffbox". There it is.' Noticing the cross in my hand he gave a barely perceptible I glanced down at the floor and saw Vorblei's black bag smile. standing by the leg of the grand piano. 'Good morning/ he said, continuing to play. 'It is gratify- 'Thank you,' I said, 'but how did you manage to get into ing to see that you give thought to your soul at such an early i he apartment?' hour.' T tried ringing,' he said, 'but the doorbell appeared not to 'What are you doing here?' I asked, carefully placing the he working. And the keys were in the lock. I saw that you crucifix on the lid of the piano beside his sabre. were sleeping and I decided to wait.' T am attempting/ he replied, 'to play a rather difficult T see/1 replied, although in actual fact it all remained a com- piece of music. But unfortunately it was written for four plete mystery to me. How had he discovered where I was? hands and I am now approaching a passage which I shall not Who had he actually come to see - me or Vorblei? Who was he be able to manage on my own. Perhaps you would be kind and what did he want? And why - this was the question that enough to assist me? I believe you are acquainted with the tormented me beyond all endurance - why had he been play- piece in question?' ing that cursed fugue? Did he suspect something? (Apropos of As though in a trance, I thrust the Mauser back into its hol- suspicion, I was discomfited least of all by the corpse beneath ster, stood beside him and waited for the right moment be- the coat in the corner - that, after all, was a perfectly ordinary fore lowering my fingers on to the keys. My counterpoint element in the decor of many a Chekist apartment.) scarcely managed to limp along after the theme, and J made Chapaev seemed to have read my thoughts. several mistakes; then my gaze fell once again on Vorblei's 'You must obviously have guessed/ he said, 'that I came to splayed legs, and the absurdity of the entire situation came see you about more than just your travelling bag. I am leaving home to me. T shrank sharply away from my companion and today for the eastern front, where I command a division. I stared at him wide-eyed. He stopped playing and sat motion- need a commissar. The last one .Well, let us simply say that less for a while, as though he were deeply absorbed in his he did not justify the hopes placed in him. I saw your agit-per- own thoughts. Then he smiled, reached out his hands and formance yesterday and you made quite an impression on me. lifted the crucifix from the piano. Babayasin was very pleased as well, by the way. I would like 'Splendid,' he said. 'I could never understand why God the political work in the units entrusted to me to be conducted should manifest himself to people in the ugly form of a by yourself.', 66 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 67 With these words he unbuttoned the pocket of his tunic cated that he possessed enough influence to extract the deci­ and held out to me a sheet of paper folded into four. I un­ sion he required from the bloody Dzerzhinsky and the shady folded it and read the following: Babayasin in the space of a single morning. In the hallway Chapaev halted and took down from the To Com. Fourply. By order of Com. Dzerzhinsky you are imme coat-stand a long dove-grey greatcoat with three stripes of diately transferred to the staff of commander of the Asiatic shimmering scarlet watered silk running across the chest. Division Com. Chapaev in order to intensify political work. Greatcoats ornamented in this manner were the latest Red Babayasin. Guard fashion, but normally the strip fastenings on the chest Below the message stood the now familiar blurred and- were made out of ordinary cloth. Chapaev put on his great­ fuzzy purple stamp. Who is this Babayasin, I thought in con­ coat and hat and fastened on a belt from which hung a holster fusion as I raised my eyes from the sheet of paper. with a Mauser, clipped on his sabre and turned to face me. 'So what exactly is your name?' Chapaev asked, screwing On his chest I noticed a rather strange-looking medal, a silver up his eyes as he looked at me, 'Grigory or Pyotr?' star with small spheres on its points. 'Pyotr,' I said, licking my dry lips. 'Grigory is my old liter­ 'Have you been decorated for the New Year?' I asked. ary пот de plume. It constantly causes confusion. Out of habit Chapaev laughed good-naturedly. some people still call me Grigory, others call me Pyotr .. / 'No/ he said, 'that is the Order of the October Star.' He nodded and picked up his sabre and astrakhan hat from T have never heard of it.' the grand piano. 'If you are lucky, you might even earn one yourself/ he 'Very well then, Pyotr,' he said, 'It may not seem very con­ said. 'Are you ready?' venient for you, but our train leaves today. There is nothing 'Comrade Chapaev/ I said, deciding to take advantage of to be done about that. Do you have any unfinished business the informal tone of our conversation. T would like to ask you here in Moscow?' a question which you might find rather strange.' 'No,' I said. T am all attention/ he said and smiled politely, tapping the Tn that case I suggest that you leave with me without long yellow cuff of a glove against his scabbard. delay. I have to attend the embarkation of the Ivanovo 'Tell me,' I said, looking him straight in the eye, 'why were weavers' regiment immediately, and I would like you to be you playing the piano? And why precisely that piece?' present. You might even be required to speak. Do you have 'Well you see/ he said, 'when I glanced into your room you many things?' were still sleeping, and you were whistling that fugue in your 'Only this,' I said, nodding towards the travelling bag. sleep - not entirely accurately, I am afraid. For my own part, 'Splendid. I shall give orders today for you to be issued 1 am simply very fond of Mozart. At one time I studied at the your allowances at the staff carriage.' Conservatory and intended to become a musician. But why He walked towards the door. does this concern you?' I picked up the travelling bag and followed him out into Tt is nothing of importance,' I said. 'Merely a strange coin­ the corridor. My thoughts were in a state of confused chaos. cidence.' The man walking ahead of me frightened me. I could not un­ We went out on to the landing. The keys really were hang­ derstand who he was - the very last thing he reminded me of ing in the door. Moving like an automaton, I locked the apart­ was a Red commander and yet, he very clearly was one of ment, dropped the keys into my pocket and followed them. The signature and stamp on today's order were exactly Chapaev down the stairs, thinking that I had never in my life the same as those which I had seen yesterday, which indi- been in the habit of whistling, especially in my sleep., 68 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 69 The first thing that I saw when J emerged on to the frosty, thought they must have come for me. Probably this idea was sunny street was a long grey-green armoured car, the same prompted by the fact that the foursome reminded me of the one that I had noticed the previous day outside the 'Musical actors in black cloaks who had borne Raskolnikov's body Snuffbox'. I had never seen a vehicle like it before - it was from the stage the previous day. One of them actually paused clearly the very latest word in the science of destruction. Its in the doorway and glanced in our direction. body was thickly studded with large round-headed rivets, 'Quickly,' shouted Chapaev from inside the armoured car. the blunt snout of the motor protruded forwards and was 'You will let the cold in.' crowned with two powerful headlights; on its high steel fore- I tossed in my travelling bag, clambered in hastily after it head, sloping slightly backwards, two slanting observation and slammed the door behind me. slits peered menacingly towards Nikitsky Square, like the The interior decor of this engine of doom enchanted me half-closed eyes of a Buddha. On the roof was a cylindrical trom the very first glance. The small space separated from the machine-gun turret, pointing in the direction of Tverskoi driver's cabin reminded me of a compartment in the Nord- Boulevard. The barrel of the machine-gun was protected on lixpress; the two narrow leather divans, the table set between both sides by two long plates of steel. There was a small door them and the rug on the floor created a cosy, if rather in the side. cramped, atmosphere. There was a round hole in the ceiling, A crowd of boys was swarming around the vehicle, some through which I could see the massive butt-stock of the ma- of them with sledges, others on skates; the thought automati- chine-gun in its cover; a spiral staircase ending at something cally came to mind that while the idiot adults were busy try- shaped like a revolving chair with footrests led up into the ing to rearrange a world which they had invented for turret. The whole was illuminated by a small electric bulb, by themselves, the children were still living in reality - among the light of which I could make out a picture fastened to the mountains of snow and sunlight, on the black mirrors of wall by bolts at the corners of its frame. It was a small land- frozen ponds and in the mystic night silence of icy yards. And scape in the style of Constable - a bridge over a river, a dis- although these children were also infected with the bacillus tant thundercloud and romantic ruins. of insanity that had invaded Russia - this was obvious Chapaev reached for the bell-shaped mouthpiece of the enough from the way in which they looked at Chapaev's speaking tube and spoke into it: 'To the station/ sabre and my Mauser - their clear eyes still shone with the The armoured car moved away gently, with scarcely any memory of something which I had long ago forgotten; per- sensation of motion inside. Chapaev sat on a divan and ges- haps it was some unconscious reminiscence of the great tured to me to sit opposite him. source of all existence from which they had not yet been too 'A magnificent machine,' I said in all sincerity. far distanced in their descent into this life of shame and deso- 'Yes/ said Chapaev, 'this is not at all a bad armoured car. lation. But I am not very fond of machinery in general. Wait until Chapaev walked over to the armoured car and rapped you see my horse .sharply on its side. The motor started up and the rear end of 'How about a game of backgammon?' he asked, putting his the car was enveloped in a cloud of bluish smoke. Chapaev hand under the table and taking out a board. opened the door and at that precise moment I heardaIshrugged. He opened up the board and began setting out screeching of brakes behind me. An enclosed automobile the black and white pieces. drew up right beside us and four men in black leather jackets 'Comrade Chapaev,' I began, 'what will my work consist leapt out of it and disappeared into the doorway from which of? What questions are involved?' we had emerged only a moment before. My heart sank - I Chapaev adjusted his moustache with a careful gesture., 70 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 71 'Well, you see, Pyotr, our division is a complex organism. I You mean/ I asked, 'that you are acquainted?' expect that you will gradually be drawn into its life and find Yes.' your own niche, as it were. As yet it is still too early to say ex- Perhaps, comrade Chapaev, you are acquainted with actly what that will be, but I realized from the way you con- I enin as well?' I asked with a gentle irony. ducted yourself yesterday that you are a man of decisive 'Only slightly/ he replied, character and at the same time you have a subtle appreciation 'Can you demonstrate that to me somehow?' 1 asked. of the essential nature of events. People like you are in great 'Why not? This very moment, if you wish.' demand. Your move.' This was too much for me to take in. I gazed at him in be- I threw the dice on to the board, pondering on how I should wilderment, but he was not embarrassed in the slightest. behave. I still found it hard to believe that he really was a Red Moving aside the board, he drew his sabre smoothly from its commander; somehow I felt that he was playing the same in- scabbard and laid it on the table. sane game as myself, only he had been playing longer, with The sabre, it should be said, was rather strange. It had a greater skill and perhaps of his own volition. On the other long silver handle covered in carvings showing two birds on hand, all my doubts were founded exclusively on the intelli- either side of a circle containing a hare, with the rest of the gent manner of his conversation and the hypnotic power of surface covered in the finest possible ornament. The handle his eyes, and in themselves these factors meant nothing at all: ended in a jade knob to which was tied a short thick cord of the deceased Vorblei, for instance, had also been a man of rea- twisted silk with a purple tassel at the end. At its base was a sonable culture, and the head of the Cheka, Dzerzhinsky, was round guard of black iron; the gleaming blade was long and quite a well-known hypnotist in occult circles. And then, I slightly curved. Strictly speaking, it was not even a sabre, but thought, the very question itself was stupid - there was not a some kind of Eastern sword, probably Chinese. However, I single Red commander who was really a Red commander; did not have time to study it in detail, because Chapaev every one of them simply tried as hard as he could to emulate switched off the light. some infernal model, pretending in just the same way as I had We were left in total darkness. I could not see a single done the previous day. As for Chapaev, I might not perceive thing, I could only hear the low, level roaring of the engine him as playing the role suggested by his military garb, but (the soundproofing on this armour-plated vehicle, I noticed, others evidently did, as was demonstrated by Babayasin's was quite excellent - not a single sound could be heard from order and the armoured car in which we were riding. I did not the street), and I could feel a slight swaying motion. know what he wanted from me, but I decided for the time Chapaev struck a match and held it up above the table. being to play according to his rules; furthermore, I felt instinc- Watch the blade,' he said. tively that I could trust him. For some reason I had the im- 1 looked at the blurred reddish reflection that had ap- pression that this man stood several flights above me on the peared on the strip of steel. There was a strange profundity eternal staircase of being which I had seen in my dream that to it, as though I were gazing through a slightly misted pane morning. of glass into a long illuminated corridor. A gentle ripple ran 'Is there something on your mind?' Chapaev asked as he across the surface of the image, and I saw a man in an un- tossed the dice. 'Perhaps there is some thought bothering you?' buttoned military jacket strolling along the corridor. He was 'Not any more,' I replied. 'Tell me, was Babayasin keen to bald and unshaven; the reddish stubble on his cheeks transfer me to your command?' merged into an unkempt beard and moustache. He leaned 'Babayasin was against it,' said Chapaev. 'He values you down towards the floor and reached out with trembling very highly. I settled the question with Dzerzhinsky.' hands, and I noticed a kitten with big sad eyes cowering in, 72 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 73 the corner. The image was very clear, and yet distorted, as ing thing, however, was that this thought was not mine - I though I were seeing a reflection in the surface of a Christ- sensed that in some obscure fashion it had been transferred to mas-tree ball. Suddenly a cough rose unexpectedly in my me by Chapaev. throat and Lenin - for undoubtedly it was he - started at the The armoured car began to slow down, and the voice of the sound, turned around and stared in my direction. I realized driver sounded in the speaking tube: that he could see me. For a second his eyes betrayed his 'The station, Vasily Ivanovich!' fright, and then they took on a cunning, even guilty look. He 'Splendid,' responded Chapaev. gave a crooked smile and wagged his finger at me threaten- The armoured car manoeuvred slowly for several minutes ingly. until it finally came to a halt. Chapaev donned his astrakhan Chapaev blew on the match and the picture disappeared. I hat, rose from the divan and opened the door. Cold air rushed caught a final glimpse of the kitten fleeing along the corridor into the cabin, together with the reddish light of winter sun- and suddenly realized that I had not been seeing things on shine and the dull roar of thousands of mingled voices. the sabre at all, I had simply, in some incomprehensible fash- 'Bring your bag/ said Chapaev, springing lightly down to ion, actually been there and I could probably have reached the ground. Screwing up my eyes slightly after the cosy ob- out and touched the kitten. scurity of the armoured car, I climbed out after him. The light came on. I looked in amazement at Chapaev, who We were in the very centre of the square in front of the had already returned the sabre to its scabbard. Yaroslavl Station. On every side we were surrounded by an 'Vladimir Ilyich is not quite well,' he said. agitated, motley crowd of armed men drawn up in the ragged 'What was that?' I asked. semblance of a parade. Several petty Red commanders were Chapaev shrugged. 'Lenin,' he said. striding along the ranks, their sabres drawn. At Chapaev's ap- 'Did he see me?' pearance there were shouts, the general hubbub grew louder 'Not you, I think,' said Chapaev. 'More probably he sensed and after a few seconds it expanded into a rumbling 'Hoorah!' a certain presence. But that would hardly have shocked him that resounded around the square several times. too much. He has become used to such things. There are The armoured car was standing beside a wooden platform many who watch him/ decorated with crossed flags, which resembled, more than 'But how can you .in what manner .Was it hypnosis?' anything else, a scaffold. There were several military men 'No more than everything else/ he said, and nodded at the standing on it, engaged in conversation: when we appeared wall, evidently referring to what lay beyond it. they began applauding. Chapaev quickly ascended the 'Who are you really?' I asked. squeaky steps; I followed him up, trying not to lag behind. 'That is the second time you have asked me that question Exchanging hurried greetings with a pair of officers (one of today/ he said. 'I have already told you that my name is Cha- them was wearing a beaver coat criss-crossed with belts and paev. For the time being that is all that I can tell you. Do not straps), Chapaev walked over to the railing of the scaffold try to force events. By the way, when we converse in private and raised his hand with the yellow cuff in a gesture calling you may call me Vasily Ivanovich. "Comrade Chapaev" for silence. sounds rather too solemn.' 'Now, lads!' he shouted, straining his voice to make it I opened my mouth, intending to demand further explana- sound hoarse. 'Y'all know what you're here for. No bloody tions, when a sudden thought halted me in my tracks. I real- shilly-shallying about the bush .You're all stuck in there ized that further insistence from my side would not achieve and you've got to get your fingers ou t .Ain't that just the anything; in fact, it might even do harm. The most astonish- way of things, though? Once you get down the front you'll be, 74 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 75 up to your neck in it and get a bellyful soon enough. Didn't deceived since childhood, and in essence nothing had reckon you was in for any spot of mollycoddling, did you (hanged for them because now they were simply being de- I paid close attention to the way Chapaev moved - as he reived in a different fashion, but the crude and insulting prim- spoke, he turned smoothly from side to side, incisively slicing itiveness of these deceptions - the old and the new - was the air in front of his chest with his extended yellow palm. genuinely inhuman. The feelings and thoughts of the men The meaning of his ever more rapid speech escaped me, but standing in the square were as squalid as the rags they wore, to judge from the way in which the workers strained their and they were even being seen off to their deaths with a stu- necks to hear and nodded their heads, sometimes even grin- pid charade played out by people who were entirely uncon- ning happily, what he was saying made good sense to them. nected to them. But then, I thought, was my situation really Someone tugged at my sleeve. With an inward shiver, I any different? If I, just like them, am unable to understand, or turned round to see a short young man with a thin mous- even worse, merely imagine I understand the nature of the tache, a face pink from the frost and voracious eyes the colour forces which control my life when I do not, then how am I any of watered-down tea. better than a drunken proletarian sent off to die for the word 'Fu fu/ he said. Internationalism'? Because I have read Gogol, Hegel and 'What?' I asked him. even Herzen? The whole thing was merely a bad joke. 'Fu-Furmanov,' he said, thrusting out a broad hand with However, I had to say something. short fingers. 'Comrade workers!' I shouted. 'Your commissar comrade 'A fine day/ F replied, shaking the hand. Furmanov has asked me to be as brief as I can, because board- Tm the co-commissar with the weavers' regiment,' he said. ing is due to begin any moment. I think that we shall have 'We'll b-be working together. If you're go-going to speak, k- time to talk later, but now let me simply tell you of the flame keep it short if you can. We're boarding soon.' that is blazing here in my heart. Today, comrades, I saw 'Very well/ I said. Lenin! Hoorah!' He glanced doubtfully at my hands and wrists. 'Are you in A long roar rumbled across the square. When the noise had the p-p-party?' died down, I said: I nodded. 'And now, comrades, here with his parting words is com- 'For long?' rade Furmanov!' 'About two years now,' I replied. Furmanov nodded gratefully to me and stepped towards Furmanov looked over at Chapaev. 'An eagle,' he said, 'but the railing. Chapaev was laughing and twirling his mous- he has to be watched. They s-s-say he often gets c-c-carried tache as he talked about something with the officer in the away. But the s-s-soldiers love him. They understand him.' heaver coat. Seeing me approach, he clapped the officer on He nodded at the silent crowd above which Chapaev's the shoulder, nodded to the others and climbed down the words were drifting. 'You've got to go, no two ways round it, steps from the tribune. Furmanov began speaking: and here's my hand-deed to you as a commander on the nail 'Comrades! We have only a few minutes left here. The final .and now the commissar's going to have a word.' chimes will sound, and we shall set sail for that mighty shore Chapaev moved back from the railing. of marble - for those cliffs on which we shall establish our 'Your turn, Petka,' he ordered in a loud voice. bridgehead I walked over to the railing. He spoke now without stammering, intoning smoothly. It was painful to look at those men and imagine the dark We made our way through the ranks of workers which maze woven by the pathways of their fates. They had been parted before us - my sympathy for them almost evaporated, 76 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 77 when I saw them at close quarters - and set off towards the out paying any particular attention to what was being spoken station. Chapaev walked quickly, and I found it hard to keep about, simply by juggling with such absurd words as 'realism' up with him. Sometimes, as he responded to greetings from .ind 'theurgy', or even 'theosophical value'. In Chapaev's termi- someone, he would raise a yellow cuff briefly to his astrakhan nology this was learning the language in which the masses hat. To be on the safe side, I began copying this gesture and speak. However, I realized that he himself did not even burden had soon mastered it so well that I actually began to feel quite himself with the knowledge of the words which he pro- at home among all these super-neanderthals scurrying about i lounced; of course, it was not clear to me how he was able to do the station. this. Perhaps, having fallen into some kind of trance, he could On reaching the edge of the platform, we jumped down on sense the vibrations of anticipation projected by the crowd and to the frozen earth. Ahead of us on the shunting lines and sid- somehow weave them into a pattern which it understood. ings stood a labyrinth of snow-covered carriages. There were We walked the rest of the way in silence. Chapaev led me tired people watching us from every side; the grimace of de- on, further and further; two or three times we stooped to dive spair repeated on all of their faces seemed to form them into under empty, lifeless trains. It was quiet, with no sound ex- some new race of men. cept the occasional frenzied whistling of steam locomotives I turned to Chapaev and asked: 'Can you explain to me the in the distance. Eventually we halted beside a train which in- meaning of "hand-deed"?' cluded an armoured carriage in its complement. The chimney 'What?' Chapaev asked with a frown. .ibove the roof of the carriage was smoking cosily, and an im- '"Hand-deed,'" I repeated. pressive Bolshevik with an oak-stained Asiatic face was 'Where did you hear that?' standing on guard at the door - for some reason I immedi- 'If I am not mistaken, only a moment ago you were speak- ately dubbed him a Bashkir. ing from the platform on the subject of your commander's We walked past the saluting Bashkir, climbed into the car- hand-deed.' riage and found ourselves in a short corridor. Chapaev nod- 'Ah,' said Chapaev with a smile, 'so that's what you are ded towards one of the doors. talking about. You know, Pyotr, when one has to address the 'That is your compartment,' he said, taking his watch out of masses, it is quite unimportant whether one understands the his pocket. 'With your permission, I shall leave you for a words that one speaks. What is important is that other people short while, I must issue a few instructions. They have to cou- understand them. One has simply to reflect the expectations ple us to the locomotive and the carnages with the weavers.' of the crowd. Some achieve this by studying the language in T did not like the look of their commissar,' I said, 'that Fur- which the masses speak, but I prefer to act in a more direct manov. He and I may not be able to work well together in the fashion. In other words, if you wish to learn what "hand- future.' deed" means, then it is not me you should be asking, but the 'Don't go worrying your head about things that have no men standing back there on the square.' connection with the present,' said Chapaev. 'You have yet to I thought I understood what he was saying. Indeed, I had reach this future of which you speak. Perhaps you will reach long before come to very similar conclusions myself, only in a future in which there will be no Furmanov - or, perhaps regard to conversations about art, which had always de- you might even reach a future in which there will be no you.' pressed me with their monotony and pointlessness. SinceIIsaid nothing, not knowing what reply to make to his was obliged by virtue of my activities to meet large numbers strange words. of chronic imbeciles from literary circles, I had deliberately 'Make yourself comfortable and rest,' he said. 'We shall cultivated the ability to participate in their discussions with- meet again at supper.', 78 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 79 I was astounded by the absolutely peaceful atmosphere of large window, beyond which the lights of the night slowly the compartment; the window in the armoured wall was tightly cut their way through the darkness. curtained, and there was a vase of carnations standing on the There was a movement at my back. I started and looked small table. I felt absolutely exhausted; once I had sat down on round. Standing behind me was the same Bashkir whom I the divan, it was some time before I felt able to move again had seen outside the carriage. After glancing at me without Then I remembered that I had not washed for several days, and the slightest expression of any kind, he wound up the gramo­ I went out into the corridor. Amazingly enough, the very first phone with the glinting silverish horn that was standing in door that I opened led into the shower room and toilet. the corner and lowered the needle on to the record that had I took a hot shower with immense pleasure (the water must begun to revolve. Chaliapin's solid cast-bronze bass began have been heated by a coal stove) and returned to my com­ singing - it was something from Wagner, I think. Wondering partment to discover that the bed had been made and a glass lor whom the third place was intended, I reached into my of strong tea was waiting for me on the table. Having drunk pocket for a papyrosa. my fill, 1 slumped on to the divan and almost immediately fell \ was not left to wonder for very long before the door asleep, intoxicated by the long-forgotten scent of stiffly opened and I saw Chapaev. He was wearing a black velvet starched sheets. jacket, a white shirt and a scarlet bow-tie made of the same When I awoke the carriage was shuddering to a regular shimmering watered silk as the red stripes on his greatcoat. rhythm as its wheels hammered over the joints of the rails. I Те was followed into the saloon car by a girl. On the table where I had left my empty tea glass, in some Her hair was cut very short - it could hardly even be called mysterious fashion a bundle had now appeared. Inside itIastyle. Down across her scarcely formed breasts, clad tightly found an immaculate two-piece black suit, a gleaming pair of in dark velvet, there hung a string of large pearls; her shoul­ patent-leather shoes, a shirt, a change of underwear and sev­ ders were broad and strong, while her hips were a little on eral ties, clearly intended to offer me a choice. I was no longer the narrow side. Her eyes were slightly slanted, but that only capable of surprise at anything that happened. The suit and added to her charm. the shoes fitted me perfectly; after some hesitation, I selected Beyond the slightest doubt, she was fit to serve as a model a tie with fine black polka dots and when I inspected myself of beauty - but a beauty which could hardly have been called in the mirror on the door of the wall cupboard I was entirely womanly. Not even my uninhibited fantasy was capable of satisfied with my appearance, although it was spoilt just a lit­ transporting that face, those eyes and shoulders to the pas­ tle by several days' unshaven stubble. Pulling out a pale-pur­ sionate, furtive gloom of a lovers' alcove. But it was easy to ple carnation from the vase, I broke off its stem and threaded imagine her, for example, on an ice-rink. There was something the flower into my buttonhole. How beautiful and unattain­ sobering about her beauty, something simple and a little sad; able the old life of St Petersburg seemed at that moment! I am not speaking of that decoratively lascivious chastity with Going out into the corridor, I saw that it was almost dark which everyone in St Petersburg was already so thoroughly already. I walked up to the end door and knocked. Nobody fed up even before the war. No, this was a genuine, natural, answered. Opening the door, I saw the interior of a large sa­ self-aware perfection, beside which mere lust becomes as bor­ loon car. At its centre stood a table set with a light supper for ing and vulgar as the raucous patriotism of a policeman. three and two bottles of champagne; above the table candle She glanced at me, then turned to Chapaev, and the pearls flames flickered to and fro in time with the swaying of the gleamed against the skin of her neck. train. The walls were covered with light-coloured wallpaper 'And is this our new commissar?' she asked. The tone of with a pattern of gold flowers; opposite the table there was a her voice was slightly flat, but pleasant nonetheless., 80 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 81 Chapaev nodded. 'Let me introduce you/ he said, 'Pyotr, was struggling to fasten my jacket, but the buttons simply Anna/ would not slip into the buttonholes - and what surprised me I got up from the table, took her cold palm in my hand and was not that I had suddenly found myself suspended high in would have raised it to my lips, but she prevented me, reply- the night sky above St Petersburg, but the fact that I was in- ing with a formal handshake in the manner of a St Petersburg capable of completing this familiar operation. emancipee. I retained her hand in mine for a moment. I was experiencing something similar now. The unreality 'She is a magnificent machine-gunner,' said Chapaev, 'so of what was happening was somehow bracketed out of my beware of irritating her.' consciousness; in itself the evening was entirely normal, and 'Could these delicate fingers really be capable of dealing if it had not been for the gentle swaying of the carriage, I death to anyone?' I asked, releasing her hand. might easily have assumed that we were sitting in one of St 'It all depends/ said Chapaev, 'on what exactly you call Petersburg's small cafes with the lamps of cabs drifting past death.' the windows. 'Can there really be any difference of views on that ac- I ate in silence and only rarely glanced at Anna. She replied count?' briefly to Chapaev when he spoke to her of gun-carts and ma- 'Oh, yes, indeed/ said Chapaev. chine-guns, but I was so engrossed by her that 1 failed to fol- We sat down at the table. With suspicious facility the low the thread of their conversation. I felt saddened by the Bashkir opened the champagne and filled our glasses. absolute unattainability of her beauty; 1 knew that it would be 'I wish to propose a toast,' said Chapaev, resting his hyp- as pointless to reach out to her with lustful hands as it would notic gaze on me, 'for the terrible times in which it has been be to attempt to scoop up the sunset in a kitchen bucket. our lot to be born, and for all those who even in such days as When supper was finished, the Bashkir cleared the plates these do not cease to strive for freedom.' from the table and served coffee. Chapaev leaned back on his His logic seemed strange to me, because our times had chair and lit a cigar. His face had acquired a benevolent and been made terrible precisely because of the striving, as he had slightly sleepy expression; he looked at me and smiled. put it, of 'all those' for their so-called 'freedom' - but whose 'Pyotr,' he said, 'you seem thoughtful, perhaps even - par- freedom, and from what? Instead of objecting, however, I don me for saying so - a little absent-minded. But a commis- took a sip of champagne - this was the simple precept which sar .He has to carry people along with him, you understand I always followed when there was champagne on the table . , . He has to be absolutely sure of himself. All the time.' and the conversation turned to politics. I suddenly realized 'I am entirely sure of myself/ I said. 'But I am not entirely how hungry I was, and I set about the food with vigour. sure of you.' It is hard to express what I was feeling. What was happen- 'How do you mean? What can be bothering you?' ing was so very improbable that I no longer felt its improba- 'May I be candid with you?' bility; this is what happens in a dream, when the mind, cast 'Certainly. Both Anna and I are absolutely counting on it.' into a whirlpool of fantastic visions, draws to itself likeaTfind it hard to believe that you really are a Red comman- magnet some detail familiar from the everyday world and fo- der.' cuses on it completely, transforming the most muddled of Chapaev raised his left eyebrow. nightmares into a simulacrum of daily routine. I once 'Indeed?' he asked, with what seemed to me to be genuine dreamed that through some exasperating contingency I had astonishment. 'But why?' become the angel on the spire of the Peter and Paul Cathedral T do not know,' I said. This all reminds me very much of a and in order to protect myself against the bitterly cold wind I masquerade.', 82 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 83 'You do not believe that 1 sympathize with the proletariat?' lhe dark winter night rushed away from us. After fumbling 'Certainly I believe it. On that platform today I even expe- briefly with the lock the Bashkir opened it and the corridor rienced a similar feeling myself. And yet..' was suddenly filled with the sharp clattering of wheels and a Suddenly I no longer understood what exactly I wanted to swarm of tiny, prickly snowflakes. Outside the door there say. Silence hung over the table, broken only by the tinkling was a small fenced-in area beneath a canopy, like the rear of the spoon with which Anna was stirring her coffee. platform of a tram, and beyond it loomed the heavy carcass of 'Well, in that case, just what does a Red commander look the next carriage. There was no way of crossing over to it, so like?' asked Chapaev, brushing the cigar ash from the flap of it remained unclear just how Chapaev had intended to pay a his jacket. visit to his new men. I followed the others out on to the plat- 'Furmanov,' I replied. form. Leaning on the railing, Chapaev drew deeply on his 'Forgive me, Pyotr, but that is the second time today that cigar, from which the wind snatched several bright crimson you have mentioned that name. Who is this Furmanov?' sparks. The gentleman with the voracious eyes,' I said, 'who ad- 'They are singing,' said Anna, 'can you hear?' dressed the weavers after me.' She raised an open hand, as though to protect her hair from Anna suddenly clapped her hands. the wind, but lowered it immediately - her hairstyle made the That reminds me,' she said, 'we have entirely forgotten gesture entirely meaningless. The thought struck me that she about the weavers, Vasily Ivanovich. We should have paid must have worn a different style only a very short time before. them a visit long ago.' 'Can you hear?' she repeated, turning to face me. Chapaev nodded. And indeed, through the rumbling of the carriage wheels I 'Yes, yes,' he said, 'you are quite right, Anna. I was just could make out a rather lovely and harmonious singing. Lis- about to suggest it myself, but Pyotr set me such a puzzle that tening more closely, I could even catch the words: everything else entirely slipped my mind.' Blacksmiths are we, our spirit is an anthill, He turned towards me. 'We must certainly return to this We forge the keys of happiness. topic. But for the present, would you not like to keep us com- Oh, hammer mighty, rise up higher still, pany?' Smite harder, harder yet upon this iron breast! 'Yes, I would.' 'Then, forward,' said Chapaev, rising from the table. 'Strange,' I said, 'why do they sing that they are smiths, if We left the staff carriage and went towards the rear of the they are weavers? And why is their spirit an anthill?' train. Events now began to seem even stranger to me: sev- 'Not an anthill, but an anvil,' said Anna. eral of the carriages through which we walked were dark 'An anvil?' 1 echoed. 'Ah, but of course. It is an anvil be- and seemed entirely empty. There was not a single light cause they are smiths - or rather, because they sing that they burning anywhere and not a sound could be heard behind are smiths, although in actual fact they are weavers. One their closed doors. I could not really believe that there were devil of a confused mess.' Red Army soldiers sleeping behind those walnut panels Despite the absurdity of the text there was something an- which reflected the glow of Chapaev's cigar in their pol- cient and bewitching about this song ringing out in the win- ished surface, but I tried not to ponder too much on the ter night. Perhaps it was not the song itself, but the strange matter. combination of innumerable male voices, the piercingly bitter One of the carriages did not end in the usual little lobby, wind, the snow-covered fields and the small stars scattered but in a door in the end wall, beyond the window of which sparsely across the night sky. When the train curved as it, 84 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 85 went round a bend we could make out the string of dark car- 'It is getting cold,' he said, as though nothing had hap- riages^ the men travelling in them must have been singing in pened. 'Let us return to the table.' total darkness - and this filled out the picture, making it even T will follow on after you,' I replied. more mysterious and strange. For some time we listened Left alone on the platform, I went on gazing into the dis- without speaking. tance for some time. I could still make out the singing of the 'Perhaps it is something Scandinavian/ I said. 'You know, weavers, but with every second that passed the string of car- they had a god there, and he had a magic hammer that he riages fell further and further behind; suddenly they seemed used as a weapon. In the Old Edda saga I think it was. Yes, to me like a tail cast off by a fleeing lizard. It was a beautiful yes, see how well everything else fits! This dark frost-covered sight. Oh, if only it were really possible, as simply as Chapaev carriage before us, why should it not be Thor's hammer had parted from these men, to leave behind me that dark hurled at some unknown enemy! It hurtles relentlessly after crowd of false identities which had been tearing my soul us, and there is no force capable of halting its flight!' apart for so many years! 'You have a very lively imagination/ Anna replied. 'Can Soon I began to feel cold. Turning back into the carriage the sight of a dirty railway carnage really arouse such a train and closing the door behind me, I felt my way along by touch. of thoughts in you?' When I reached the staff carriage I felt such a great weariness 'Of course not/ I said. T am simply endeavouring to make that without even pausing to shake the snowflakes from my conversation. In actual fact I am thinking about something else.' jacket, I went straight into my compartment and collapsed on 'About what?' asked Chapaev. to the bed. 'About the fact that man is rather like this train. In exactly I could hear Chapaev and Anna talking and laughing in the the sarne way he is doomed for all eternity to drag after him saloon car. out of the past a string of dark and terrible carriages inher- 'Pyotr!' Chapaev shouted. 'Don't go to sleep! Come and ited from goodness knows whom. And he calls the mean- join us!' ingless rumbling of this accidental coupling of hopes, After the cold wind which had chilled me through on the opinions and fears his life. And there is no way to avoid this platform, the warm air in the compartment was remarkably fate.' pleasant. It even began to feel more like water than air, as 'Why not?' asked Chapaev. 'There is a way.' though at long last I were taking the hot bath I had been 'Do you know it?' I asked. dreaming about for so many days. When the sensation be- 'Of course/ said Chapaev. came absolutely real, I realized that I was falling asleep, 'Perhaps you would share it with us?' which I might have guessed anyway from the fact that in- 'Gladly/ said Chapaev, and he clicked his fingers. stead of Chaliapin, the gramophone suddenly began playing The Bashkir seemed to have been waiting for precisely this the same Mozart fugue with which my day had begun. I signal. Setting his lamp on the floor, he ducked nimbly under sensed that I should not on any account fall asleep, but there the railings, leaned out in the darkness over the invisible ele- was no longer anything I could do to resist; having aban- ments of the carriage coupling and began making rapid doned the struggle, I hurtled down headlong between the movements with his hands. There was a dull clanging sound minor piano chords into the same stairwell of emptiness and the Bashkir returned to the platform with the same which had so astounded me that morning. alacrity with which he had left it. The dark carriage wall facing us began slowly receding. I looked up at Chapaev. Fie met my gaze calmly., BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 87 'Take no notice. It's just the injection.' 'I shall try.' 4 'Splendid/ I suddenly noticed that this Volodin was entirely naked. Moreover, he was wet and he was squatting on a tiled floor, on to which copious amounts of water were dripping from his body. But what was most intolerable in this entire specta- cle was a certain relaxed freedom in his pose, an elusive mon- 'Hey there! No sleeping!' key-like lack of constraint in the way he rested his long Someone shook me carefully by the shoulder. I lifted my sinewy arm against the tiles. This lack of constraint somehow head, opened my eyes and saw a face 1 did not recognize, seemed to proclaim that the world around us is such that it is round and plump, framed in a painstakingly tended beard. only natural and normal for large hairy men to sit on the floor Although it wore an affable smile, it did not arouse any desire in such a state - and that if anyone thinks otherwise, then he to smile in return. I understood why immediately - it was the will certainly find life difficult. combination of the carefully trimmed beard with a smoothly What he had said about the injection seemed to be true. shaven skull The gentleman leaning over me reminded me of Something strange really was happening to my perception of one of those speculators trading in anything they could lay I he world. For several seconds Volodin had existed all alone, their hands on who appeared in such abundance in St Peters- without any background, like a photograph in a residence burg immediately after the start of the war. As a rule they permit. Having inspected his face and body in their full de- came from the Ukraine and had two distinguishing features - tail, 1 suddenly began to think about where all this was hap- a monstrous amount of vitality and an interest in the latest oc- pening, and it was only after I had done so that the place cult trends in the capital. actually came into being - at least, that was how I experi- 'Vladimir Volodin/ the man introduced himself. 'Just call enced it. me Volodin. Since you've decided to lose your memory one The space around us was a large room covered throughout more time, we might as well introduce ourselves all over with white tiles, with five cast-iron baths standing in a row on again.' the floor. I was lying in one of the end baths and I suddenly 'Pyotr,' 1 said. realized with disgust that the water in it was rather cold. Of- 'Better not make any sudden movements, Pyotr,' said fering a final smile of encouragement, Volodin turned round Volodin. 'While you were still sleeping they gave you four on the spot and from his squatting position leapt with revolt- cc's of taurepam, so your morning's going to be a bit on the ing agility into the bath next to mine, scarcely even raising a gloomy side. Don't be too surprised if you find the things or splash in the process. people around you depressing or repulsive.' In addition to Volodin, I could see two other people in the 'Oh, my friend,' 1 said, 'it is a long time now since I have room: a long-haired, blue-eyed blond with a sparse beard been surprised by that kind of thing.' who looked like an ancient Slavic knight, and a dark-haired 'No,' he said, 'what I mean is that the situation you find voung man with a rather feminine, pale face and an exces- yourself in might seem quite unbearably loathsome. Inex- sively developed musculature. They were looking at me ex- pressibly, inhumanly monstrous and absurd. Entirely incom- pectantly. patible with life.' 'Seems like you really don't remember us/ the bearded 'And what should 1 do?' blond said after several seconds of silence. 'Semyon Serdyuk.', 88 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 89 'Pyotr/ I replied. having a split personality, but you, Pyotr, are a prize exhibit. 'Maria/ said the young man in the far bath. Your false personality is developed in such fine detail that it T beg your pardon?' outweighs the real one and almost entirely displaces it. And 'Maria, Maria/ he repeated, obviously annoyed. 'It'saIhe way it's split is simply magnificent.' name. You know, there was a writer, Erich Maria Remarque? 'Nothing of the sort,' objected Serdyuk, who had so far re- I was named after him.' mained silent. 'Pyotr's case isn't really very complicated. AtaThave not come across him,' I replied. 'He must be one of structural level it's no different from Maria's. Both of them the new wave.' have identified with names, only Maria's identification is 'And then there was Rainer Maria Rilke. Haven't you with the first name, and Pyotr's is with the surname. But heard of him either?' Pyotr's displacement is stronger. He can't even remember his 'Why, certainly I have heard of him. We are even ac- surname. Sometimes he calls himself Fourply, sometimes quainted.' something else.' 'Well then, he was Rainer Maria, and I'm just Maria.' 'Then what is my surname?' I asked anxiously. 'Pardon me/ I said, 'but I seem to recognize your voice. 'Your surname is Voyd/ Volodin replied, 'and your mad- Was it not by any chance you who related that strange story ness is caused by your denying the existence of your own per- with the aeroplane, about Russia's alchemical wedlock with sonality and replacing it with another, totally invented one.' the West and so forth?' 'Although in structural terms, I repeat, it's not a compli- 'Yes,' replied Maria, 'but what do you find so strange about cated case/ added Serdyuk. it?' I was annoyed - I found the idea of some strange psychic 'Nothing in general terms,' I said, 'but for some reason I deviant telling me that my case was not complicated rather had the impression that you were a woman.' offensive. 'Well, in a certain sense, that's right,' replied Maria. 'Ac- 'Gentlemen, you are reasoning like doctors,' I said. 'Does cording to the boss here, my false personality is definitely I hat not seem to you to represent a certain incongruity?' that of a woman. You wouldn't by any chance be a heterosex- 'What kind of incongruity?' ual chauvinist would you?' 'Everything would be perfectly fine,' I said, 'if you were 'Certainly not/ I said, 'I am simply surprised at how easily standing here in white coats. But why are you lying here your- you accept that this personality is false. Do you really believe selves, if you understand everything so very clearly?' that?' Volodin looked at me for several seconds without speaking. T don't believe anything at all/ said Maria. 'My concus- 'I am the victim of an unfortunate accident/ he said. sion's to blame for everything. And they keep me here be- Serdyuk and Maria burst into loud laughter. cause the boss is writing his dissertation.' 'And as for me,' said Serdyuk, T haven't even got any false 'But who is this boss?' I asked in bewilderment, hearing the personalities. Just an ordinary suicide attempt due to chronic word a second time. alcoholism. They're keeping me here because you can't build 'Timur Timurovich,' Maria replied. 'The head of the de- a dissertation around just three cases. Just to round out the partment. False personalities are his line.' statistics/ 'That's not exactly right,' Volodin countered. 'The title of 'Never mind all that,' said Maria. 'You're next in line for the dissertation he is working on is "The Split False Person- the garrotte. Then we 11 hear all about your alcoholic suicide/ ality". Maria here is a fairly simple and uncomplicated case By this time I felt thoroughly chilled; furthermore, I was and you really have to strain the term a bit to talk about him unable to decide whether the explanation lay in the injection, 90 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 91 which, according to Volodin, ought to have made everything door. I turned to look. Timur Timurovich was standing in the that was happening to me seem intolerable, or whether the doorway. water really was as cold as it seemed. 'Garrotte?' he asked, raising one eyebrow. 'The garrotte, if Thankfully, however, the door opened at this point and I am not mistaken, is a chair on which people were executed two men in white coats entered the room. I remembered that by strangulation in medieval Spain, is that not so? What a one of them was called Zherbunov, the other Barbolin. Zher- dark and depressive perception of surrounding reality! Of bunov held a large hourglass in his hand, while Barbolin was course you, Pyotr, had your injection this morning, so it's carrying an immense heap of linen. nothing to be surprised at. But you, Vladimir? I am aston- 'Out we get/ said Zherbunov merrily, waving the timer in ished, astonished.' front of him. As he rattled off this speech, Timur Timurovich gestured They wiped down each of us in turn with huge fluffy tor Zherbunov and Barbolin to leave and walked to the centre sheets and helped us to put on identical pyjamas with hori- of the room. zontal stripes, which immediately lent events a certain naval 'It's not a garrotte at all/ he said. 'It's a perfectly ordinary flavour. Then they led us out through the door and down a couch for our group therapy sessions. You, Pyotr, have already long corridor, which also seemed somehow familiar - not the attended one of these sessions, immediately after you returned corridor itself, however, but the vaguely medical smell that to us from the isolation ward, but you were in rather poor con- hung in its air. dition, so it's unlikely that you can remember anything.' Tell me/ I said quietly to Zherbunov, who was walking That is not the case,' I said, T do remember something.' along just behind me, 'why am I here?' 'All the better. Then let me briefly remind you what takes He opened his eyes wide in surprise. place here. The method which I have developed and employ 'As if you didn't know,' he said. could be provisionally classified as turbo-Jungian. You are, of 'No,' I said, T am prepared to admit that 1 am not well, but course, acquainted with the views of Jung ./ what was the cause? Have I been here for a long time? And T beg your pardon, of whom?' what specific acts am I actually charged with?' 'Karl Gustav Jung. Very well, I perceive that your mental 'Ask Timur Timurovich all your questions,' said Zher- activity is currently subject to powerful censorship from your bunov. 'We've no time for idle chatter.' lalse personality. And since your false personality is living in I felt extremely depressed. We stopped at a white door bear- 1918 or 1919, we should hardly be surprised if you seem un- ing the number '7'. Barbolin opened it with a key and they al- able to remember who he is - or perhaps you really never lowed us through into a rather large room with four beds have heard of Jung?' standing along the wall. The beds were made, there wasaIshrugged my shoulders in a dignified manner. table by the barred window and standing by the wall was To put it simply, there was a psychologist by the name of something that looked like a combination of a couch and a low lung. His therapeutic methods were based on a very simple armchair, with elastic loops for the sitter's hands and feet. De- principle. He attempted to draw to the surface of his patient's spite these loops, there was nothing at all menacing about the consciousness the symbols which he could use to form a di- contrivance. Its appearance was emphatically medical, and agnosis. By means of deciphering them, that is.' the absurd phrase 'urological chair' even came into my mind. At this point Timur Timurovich gave a cunning little smile. 'I beg your pardon/ I said, turning to Volodin, 'but is this 'But my method is a little different,' he said, 'although the the garrotte of which you spoke?' fundamentals are the same. With Jung's method we would Volodin gave me a brief glance and nodded towards the have to take you off somewhere to Switzerland, to some, 92 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 93 sanatorium up in the mountains, sit you down on a chaise- while Maria removed his jacket and put on instead an under- longue, enter into long-drawn-out conversations and wait for shirt with a long slit reaching almost down to his navel. They God knows how long before the symbols began to surface. all seemed quite accustomed to this procedure and sat there We can't do that sort of thing. Instead of the chaise-longue we patiently pushing their pencils across the surface of the sit you down over there/ - Timur Timurovich pointed to the paper. Just to be on the safe side, I made a quick, rough sketch couch - 'we give you a little injection, and then we observe and then set the board aside and began inspecting my sur- the symbols that start floating to the surface in simply va-a- roundings. ast quantities. After that it's up to us to decipher them and The injection was certainly still working - 1 was still suffer- cure you. Is that clear?' ing from the same effect that I had felt in the bathroom and 'More or less/ I said. 'How do you go about deciphering was incapable of perceiving external reality in its totality. El- them?' ements of the surrounding world appeared at the moment 'You'll see that, Pyotr, for yourself. Our sessions take place when my gaze fell on them, and I was developing a giddy on Fridays, which means that in three .no, in four weeks it feeling that my gaze was actually creating them. will be your turn. I must say, I am really looking forward to Suddenly I noticed that the walls of the room were hung it, working with you is so very interesting. But then, of with drawings on small sheets of paper, some of which ap- course, the same applies to all of you, my friends.' peared to be very curious indeed. Some of them obviously be- Timur Timurovich smiled, flooding the room with the longed to Maria. These were extremely clumsy, almost warm radiance of his love, then he bowed and shook his own childish scribbles which all repeated in various forms the left hand with his right one. theme of an aeroplane adorned with a massive phallic projec- 'And now it's time for class to begin.' tion. Sometimes the aeroplane was standing on its tail and the 'What class?' I asked. images acquired Christian overtones of a somewhat sacrile- 'Why,' he said, looking at his watch, 'it's already half past gious nature. In general though, Maria's drawings were of no one. Practical aesthetics therapy.' particular interest. With the possible exception of the psycho-hydraulic proce- However, another set appeared curious in the extreme, and dures which had roused me from sleep, I have never experi- not merely because the artist possessed indisputable talent. enced anything quite so distressing as that session of practical These were drawings united by a Japanese theme, represented aesthetics therapy - but then, perhaps the injection was really in a strange, uneven fashion. Most of the drawings, seven or to blame. The exercises were held in a room adjacent to our eight in number, attempted to reproduce an image seen some- ward; it was large and dimly lit, with a long table in its corner where previously: a samurai with two swords and the lower heaped with lumps of Plasticine of various colours, ugly mis- half of his body indecently exposed, standing on the edge of an shapen toy horses of the kind moulded by artistically gifted abyss with a stone hung round his neck. Another two or three children, paper models of ships, broken dolls and balls. At drawings depicted horsemen at rest against a background of the centre of the table was a large plaster bust of Aristotle, distant mountains, which were drawn with astonishing skill in and we sat opposite him, on four chairs covered with brown the traditional Japanese style. The horses in these images were oilcloth, with drawing-boards on our knees. The aesthetics tethered to trees and their dismounted riders, clad in loose, therapy consisted in our drawing the bust with pencils which colourful garments, were sitting near by on the grass and were attached to the board and had also been covered in soft drinking from shallow bowls. The drawing which made the black rubber. strongest impression on me had an erotic theme; it showed an Volodin and Serdyuk remained in their striped pyjamas, other-worldly man in a tiny blue cap astride a woman with, 94 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 95 broad Slavic cheekbones who was giving herself to him. There crowded composition it reminded me of an illustration to was something horrifying about her face. Tolstoy's War and Peace - one including all of the novel's char- 'Excuse me, gentlemen,' I said, unable to restrain myself, acters and the entire scope of its action. At the same time the 'to whom do these drawings on Japanese themes belong?' drawing was very childish in nature, because it broke all of 'Semyon/ said Volodin, 'who do your drawings belong to? the rules of perspective and common sense, exactly like a The hospital, I suppose?' child's drawing. The right-hand section of the drawing was 'Are they yours, Mr Serdyuk?' occupied by a representation of a big city. When I spotted the 'Yes,' answered Serdyuk, glancing sideways at me with his bright yellow dome of St Isaac's, I realized that it must be St bright blue eyes. Petersburg. Its streets, in some places drawn in detail and in 'Quite exquisite,' I said. 'Only, perhaps, rather sombre.' others merely represented by simple lines, as though on a He gave no answer. map, were filled with arrows and dotted lines which clearly The third series of drawings, which I guessed must be represented the trajectory of someone's life. From St Peters- those of Volodin, was very abstract and impressionistic in burg a dotted line led to a similar image of Moscow which manner. Here also there was a leitmotif - three dark blurred was close beside it. In Moscow only two places were repre- silhouettes around a burst of flame, with a broad beam of sented in real detail - Tverskoi Boulevard and the Yaroslavl light falling on them from above. In compositional terms it Station. Leading away from the station was the fine double was reminiscent of a well-known Russian painting of three cobweb dine of a railway track, which widened as it ap- hunters sitting round a camp-fire, except that in this work it proached the centre of the sheet and acquired a third dimen- was a high-explosive shell that had exploded in the flames sion, turning into a drawing rendered more or less according just a moment before. to the laws of perspective. The track ran off to a horizon over- I looked over at the other wall and started violently in sur- grown with bright yellow wheat, where a train stood on its prise. rails, wreathed in clouds of smoke and steam. It was probably the most acute attack of deja vu 1 have ever The train was drawn in detail. The locomotive had been suffered in my life. From my very first glance at the six-foot- badly damaged by several direct hits from shells; thick clouds long sheet of cardboard, covered with its tiny figures in vari- of steam were pouring from the holes in the sides of the bar- ous colours, I sensed a profound connection with the strange rel-shaped boiler, and the driver's dead body was hanging object. I rose from my chair and went across to it. out of the cabin. Behind the locomotive there was an open My gaze fell on the upper part of the sheet, which showed goods truck with an armoured car standing on it - my heart something like the plan of a battle, in the way they are usually began to race at this - with its machine-gun turret turned to- drawn in history textbooks. At its centre was a solid blue wards the yellow waves of wheat. The trapdoor of the turret oval, where the word 'SCHIZOPHRENIA' was written in was open and I saw Anna's close-cropped head protruding large letters. Approaching it from above were three broad red from it. The ribbed barrel of the machine-gun was spitting arrows; one ran directly into the oval and the two others fire in the direction of the wheatfield; Chapaev, wearing a tall curved round to bite into its sides. Written on them were the astrakhan hat and a shaggy black cloak buttoned from his words 'insulin', 'aminazine' and 'sulphazine', and running neck to his feet, stood on the platform beside the armoured down from the oval in a broken line was a blue arrow, be- car and waved his raised sabre in the direction of its fire. His neath which were the words 'illness retreats'. 1 studied this pose seemed a little too theatrical. plan and then turned my attention to the drawing below it. The train in the picture had halted only a few yards short of With its numerous characters, abundant detail and a station, the greater part of which was invisible beyond the, 96 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 97 edge of the sheet of cardboard; all I could see was the platform The result was very similar to that well-known painting by barrier and a sign bearing the words 'Lozovaya Junction'. Van Gogh, the name of which I cannot recall, where a black I tried to spot the enemies at whom Anna was firing from cloud of crows looking like thick, crudely drawn 'V's circles her turret, but all I could discover in the drawing were nu- above a field of wheat. I thought of how hopelessly despairing merous vaguely sketched silhouettes largely hidden by the the condition of the artist is in this world: at first the thought wheat. I was left with the impression that the artist responsi- gave me a certain bitter satisfaction, but then I suddenly felt it ble for the work did not have a very clear idea of why and to be unbearably false. It was not merely a question of its ba- against whom the military action shown was being con- nality, but of its institutional meanness: everybody involved ducted. But I had little doubt as to the identity of the author. in art repeated it in one way or another, classifying themselves Written in large letters under the drawing were the words: as members of some special existential caste, but why? Did the 'The Battle at Lozovaya Junction'. Close by, other words had life of a machine-gunner or a medical orderly, for instance, been added in a different hand: 'Chapaev's waving, Petka's lead to any other outcome? Or were they any less filled with raving'. the torment of the absurd? And was the unfathomable I whirled round to face the others. tragedy of existence really linked in any way with the pursuits 'Come now, gentlemen, does it not seem to you that this in which a person was engaged in their lifetime? rather exceeds the bounds of what is acceptable among de- I turned to look at my companions. Serdyuk and Maria cent people, eh? What if I should start acting in the same way, were absorbed in the bust of Aristotle (Maria was concentrat- eh? Then what would happen?' ing so hard that he had even stuck the tip of his tongue out of Volodin and Serdyuk averted their gaze. Maria pretended his mouth), but Volodin was attentively following the that he had not heard. I carried on looking at them for some changes in the drawing on my sheet of cardboard. Catching time, attempting to guess which of them was responsible for my gaze on him, he smiled inquiringly at me. this vile act, but no one responded. Besides, 1 was not in all 'Volodin,' I began, 'may I ask you a question?' honesty particularly concerned and my annoyance was to a 'By all means.' large extent feigned. I was far more interested in the drawing, 'What is your profession?' which from my very first glance had given me the impression T am an entrepreneur,' said Volodin, 'or a new Russian, as that it was somehow incomplete. Turning back to the card- they say nowadays. At least, I was. But why do you ask?' board, I struggled for some time to understand exactly what 'You know, I was just thinking .People go on and on it was that was bothering me. It seemed to be the section be- about the tragedy of the artist, the tragedy of the artist. But tween the plan of the battle and the train, where in principle why the artist in particular? It is really rather unfair. The fact the sky should have been - a large area of the cardboard was is, you see, that artists are very visible individuals and there- blank, which somehow produced the impression of a gaping fore the troubles that they encounter in life are bandied about void. I went over to the table and rummaged in its clutter and exposed to the public eye . .. but does anyone ever think until I found a stub of sanguine and an almost complete stick about .Well, no, they might well remember an entrepre- of charcoal. neur .Let us say, an engine-driver? No matter how tragic I spent the next half-hour adding black blotches of shrapnel his life might be?' shell-bursts to the sky over the wheatfield. I drew them all 'You're coming at the question from the wrong side en- identically - a small dense black cloud of solid charcoal, and tirely, Pyotr/ said Volodin. fragments scattering like arrows in all directions, leaving 'What do you mean?' long trails of dark red behind them. 'You're getting your concepts confused. The tragedy, 98 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 99 doesn't happen to the artist or the engine-driver, it takes 'With being the light,' said Volodin. 'As is usual in such place in the mind of the artist or the engine-driver/ cases/ 'I beg your pardon?' T must assume that you are joking,' I said. 'But seriously?' 'Granted, granted,' Volodin purred and turned back to his Volodin shrugged. drawing-board. T had two assistants,' he said, 'about your age. You know, It was several seconds before Volodin's words sank in and garbage men - they were very useful for cleaning up reality, I realized what he meant. But the mental listlessness induced you can't do business without them these days. They're in by the injection completely blocked out any response. the drawing here, by the way - see, those two shadows. Turning back to my sheet of cardboard, I drew in several Well, to cut it short, I made it a rule to discuss such exalted columns of thick black smoke above the field, using up all my subjects with them. And then one day we happened to go charcoal. Together with the dark spots of the shrapnel-bursts, into the forest and I showed them - I don't even know how they lent the picture a certain air of menace and hopelessness. to explain it - the way everything is. I didn't even show I suddenly felt unwell, and I dedicated myself to covering the them - they saw it all for themselves. That's the moment horizon with small figures of horsemen galloping through shown in the drawings. And it had such an effect on them the wheat to cut off the attackers. that a week later they ran off and turned me in. Stupid id- 'You missed your vocation - you should have been a battle iots, each of them had a dozen stiffs to answer for, but they artist,' observed Volodin. From time to time he would look still reckoned that was nothing compared with what they up to glance at my sheet of cardboard. had to report. Modern man has the very basest of instincts, 'A fine comment, coming from you/ I replied. 'After all, let me assure you.' you are the one who keeps drawing an explosion in a camp- 'Indeed you are right,' I replied, thinking of something else fire.' entirely. 'An explosion in a camp-fire?' I pointed to the wall where the drawings hung. Hor lunch Barbolin led us to a small dining-room rather like 'If you think that's an explosion in a camp-fire, then I have the room with the baths, except that the place of the baths was nothing more to say to you,' replied Volodin, 'nothing what- taken by plastic tables situated next to a serving-hatch. Only soever.' one of the tables was laid. We hardly spoke at all during the He seemed to have taken offence. meal. When I had finished my soup and begun eating my 'What is it, then?' gruel I suddenly noticed that Volodin had pushed away his 'It's the descent of the light of heaven,' he answered. 'Can't plate and was staring hard at me. At first I tried not to pay you see that it comes down from on high? It's drawn like that any attention, but then I could stand it no longer, and I looked deliberately.' up and stared boldly into his eyes. He smiled peaceably - in My mind raced through several consecutive conclusions. the sense that there was nothing menacing in his expression, 'Can I assume, then, that they're keeping you here because and said: of this heavenly light?' 'You know, Pyotr, I have the feeling that you and I have 'You can,' said Volodin. met in circumstances that were extremely important - for me, 'That's hardly surprising,' I said politely. T sensed immedi- at least/ ately that you were no ordinary man. But what exactly have I shrugged. they charged you with? With having seen that light? Or with 'Do you by any chance have an acquaintance with a red attempting to tell others about it?' face, three eyes and a necklace of skulls,' he asked, 'who, 100 VICTOR PELEVIN BUDDHA'S LITTLE FINGER 101 dances between fires? Mm? Very tall, he was. And he waves anyone who happens to observe it: there is the person lying these crooked swords around/ on his back, he lies there for an hour, for two, for three, and 'Maybe I do /1 said politely, 'but I cannot quite tell just who I hen suddenly leaps up, thrusts his feet into his slippers and it is you have in mind. The features you mention are very sets out for goodness knows where, simply because for some common, after all. It could be almost anybody.' obscure reason - or perhaps without any reason at all - his T see,' said Volodin, and he went back to his plate. I fain of thought has gone dashing off in some entirely arbi- I reached out for the teapot in order to pour some tea into trary direction. The majority of people are actually like that, my glass, but Maria shook his head. and it is these lunatics who determine the fate of our world. 'Better not/ he said. 'Bromide. Takes away your natural The universe that extended in all directions around my bed sexuality.' was full of the most varied sounds. Some of them I recog- Volodin and Serdyuk, however, drank the tea without ap- nized - the blows of a hammer on the floor below, the sound pearing in the slightest manner concerned. of a shutter banging in the wind somewhere in the distance, After lunch we went back to the ward and Barbolin imme- the cawing of the crows - but the origin of most of the sounds diately disappeared off somewhere. My three companions remained unclear. It is astonishing how many new things are were obviously accustomed to such a routine and fell asleep immediately revealed to a man who can empty out the fos- almost as soon as they had laid down on their beds. 1 stretched silized clutter of his conscious mind for a moment! It is not out on my back and stared at the ceiling for a long time, even clear where most of the sounds that we hear actually savouring the state, rare for me, of an entirely empty mind,

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