SCENE: RAILWAY STATION, IN TVER. 1932.
Snow falls in sparse sputters of powdery flakes, denoting the bitter frost.
The metallic air stings the lungs of those bold or desperate to venture out before dawn.
A slender, bow-shouldered young woman in her late twenties or so, hovers near the departure walk of the train station. Her face is hollow in expression, pale, rigid in its disappointed yet fazed look.
Her hair is hidden, since her headscarf is wrapped and bond tightly at her chin in the classic "devushka" style. Her large eyes appear dull, and heighten her despondent mien and emanate a sort of subtle aura of a woman having lost much but remains shut tight like a clam against outsiders.
This is Yekaterina Timofeevna Luneva, better known to family and friends as "Katya".
Two paces behind her a tall, wiry man of a measured, deliberate step takes his place awaiting the soon-arriving train.
Dressed in a military overcoat, he cuts a decidedly authoritarian figure, and his rigid frown, lining his stern features, age him prematurely. He passes an intent look ahead- but at what?- as though he judges an invisible crowd before him. Perhaps he's judging his future engagement.
This is Polkovnik Andrei Danilovich Novokshonov. A former White Don Cossack officer, but now a Red Cossack officer through a forced change of allegiance to the new Soviet State.
He cuts a decidedly grim figure next to the morose young lady.
In silent self-reproach, he steps a pace away from her. Remembering to ascertain his departure time, he dips into his breastpocket of his overcoat and glances at the itinerary his transfer officer gave him. He distracts himself from the young woman's apparent "melancholy. "
Katya looks to her side and looks at the train approaching them. It appears she wants to say something and she turns her head slightly towards Andrei's direction.
The stony-faced officer perceives Katya's glancing at him- what was she staring at?
Ah, but he noticed she's staring beyond him- at that point of staring at her own thoughts.
He glanced at her sharply, craning his neck a bit forward to catch sight of the train. He drew a sharp breath and huffed a cloud of frost. Her stare uneases the officer- there's something about her eyes that elicits a hidden quality he can't name.
Andrei: *Lights a cigarette, guarding the flame of his match with his roughened hand against the wind and puffs on it curtly. Glances at Katya.* Seems the train will be on time. Are you waiting for your people or are you boarding as I am?
Katya: Perhaps. Though I'm not sure what I might be waiting for anymore. There isn't a point to a lot of things...
She looked off into the distance, as if waiting for something to take her away from her current misery. Her eyes looked clearly tired, as if she could no longer stand even her own existence.
Both can now hear the arrival of the train.
Andrei: *glances at her in concern masked with gruffness* That's a cryptic thing to say. There's a always a point. You should live to see what you can make out of this life we have.
Katya looks away, unable and not wanting to reply to Andrei.
The train is getting closer now. Katya looks towards the direction of the train and seems to be edging just slightly closer to the train track.
Andrei draws another breath and huffs softly. He mutters under his breath: "Silent as an owl!"
The train is very close now. Katya edges closer and her foot is now only 10 inches away from the railroad. Her head also dips closer towards the railroad and her eyes look dazed.
Noticing her edge the platform whee the train stops, Andrei calls out to her in growing alarm.
Andrei: You! Devushka! Get away from there-you're too close to the edge!
It is as if she could not hear him. She gets even closer and seems to be falling towards the train itself.
Realizing her intent, Andrei darts frantically to the young woman-she is trying to kill herself, he realizes!
Andrei: *a vehement growl, furious with her desperate act* What are you doing!
She does not reply and only lets out a sob as she falls towards the train. As the train gets closer and closer, she realizes what she is doing and attempts to jerk back, but she believes it is too late, and lets out a blood-hurling scream.
With a second-quick reflex, Andrei grabs hold of her forearm before her whole body falls onto the tracks- Their combined weight puts too much a strain in his still-injured breastbone- some weeks ago, a careless recruit's target practice finds its bullet into his chest.
Andrei digs his heels into the snow-dusted platform for a center and yanks her- but they're not on the platform together. Eschewing modesty, he yanks her again and jostles her right on top of him-both fall back on the platform, sprawled.
Katya is shocked and still needs time to process what has just happened. She feels dizzy, tired, and confused, and is not sure if she is still alive or not. She looks at Andrei, and then tries to stand up by herself. She then looks at Andrei again when she fails to stand up on her own.
Katya: *very small voice* W-what had just happened?!
Panting, Andrei tersely nudges the dazed young woman of of him. He casts a stern, if disdainful look of shock mixed with relief. Propping himself on his elbow off the ground, he remains lying there, looking up at Katya, slightly accusative. He can't believe what happened himself. He quickly glances over her and pats her shoulders to ascertain she's garnered on injuries herself. The pain with the lodged bullet in his breastbone sharply stabs, he winces, shaking off the pain attack.
Andrei: You can't be drunk- you haven't cried or laugh for that to be. You nearly threw yourself, devushka! You must really want to meet death, do you?
Katya: I...*she sighs, not sure what to say* How can you assume that? I was just feeling lightheaded. But thank you...I think if it hadn't been for you, I would've been dead. I've just been exhausted, leading to lightheadedness.
She gingerly touches her arms and where Andrei had pulled on her to save her life.
Andrei: Lightheaded? Perhaps more than that. You nearly got yourself killed- and myself. Perhaps you were tired of life? *Sitting up, the movement strains his chest muscles clenching his chest for a second, and letting out a soft hiss between his clenched teeth.*
Katya: I'm sorry. I'll be on my way, now. *starts to board the train*
She sighs and does not look back at Andrei as she sits down inside the train.
Andrei remains reticent. He shakes his head, irked at her enigmatic manner. Struggling, he rises to his feet when a porter stops to help him stand.
Boarding the train, he follows the conductor through the cars to the passenger booths. His seat is across directly from Katya's.
Andrei: *under his breath* Her again! *he glowers, slightly peeved he will have to notice her quizzical self throughout the journey.* Tsk!
Katya looks at something in her bag and then sighs, and then looks out the window. Slowly, a couple of tears roll down her face. She tries to turn further away from Andrei, but it's clearly visible that she is crying now. Her sobs are quiet at first and barely audible, but gradually become more audible.
Hearing her sobs rise, Andrei initially ignores her- he has no desire to prying into her personal affairs. He has own he must address in their next destination. But seeing her tears, guilt gnaws on him like a dog on a bone until his guilt stings him into roughly finding his voice.
Soften! Be Gentle! His conscience urges him.
Andrei:*voice begins gruff, but softens in slight remorse at his previous annoyance of her*You're crying- are you all right, devushka?
*He looks ahead of the booths, not wanting to embarrass her with eye contact- or invest himself too heavily. But he then hands her a handkerchief, starched and pressed neatly.*
Katya: *does not reply, and just stares stonily out the window* I'm fine...I really am.
Andrei: *falls into hardened tone* You are not fine. *Realizes his tone is hard and reforms his tone*Are you in trouble? May-maybe I can help?
Katya: Somewhat. I'm just tired of being stuck in the same cycle over and over again, for over ten years. It seems like nothing is g-going to get better.
Andrei: *crosses arms and casts a contemplative glance on the floor* Monotony is the price we pay for security and not thinking outside the confines people draw for us. But your troubles, you seem to handle them all on your own then. That's good. It shows your tenacity. So why do you think your life will not get better? Are you sick? *Wonders if she has a terminal illness?*
Katya: Yes, I'm very much alone. My father, the only person who really ever understood me, is now dead.
Katya bows her head.
She looks at Andrei in the eye as she continues.
Katya: It's soul crushing, realizing that one of the people you looked forward to see everyday is now gone....
She looks like she may start to cry again. She tries to hold back, but tears overfill her eyes and roll off her cheeks.
Blinking several times, he fixes a concerned gaze on her. His brows, usually bent in sternness, are furrowed in commiseration for her. He recalls when he lost his father and brother those 15 years ago. He inhales slowly, as though measuring his next actions, trying to comfort her the right way and not make more pain, as sometimes extending sympathy goes.
He offers her another handkerchief, and then rises, and sits next beside on the other passenger bench.
Katya sobs and gently takes his handkerchief and looks relaxed as he sits beside her. She looks grateful for his company and appears to even want to lean against him.
Andrei: *slowly, quietly, eyes lowered down, as not to make her feel obligated to look at him*I'm sorry.
Katya looks at him and continues sobbing a little more, overcome by emotion.
She looks at Andrei with questions in her eyes.
Katya: I should be sorry, for telling you about my life when we barely know each other. I hope I-I'm not being a burden.
Andrei: * by instinctive reflex, he reluctantly extends an arm to place alongside the top of her shoulder, gingerly flinching, lest she rejects the gesture.* If you can't share your sorrow with a stranger, who can you share it with?
Andrei: Don't apologize. Grieve all you want right here. You won't be judged.
He's been unaccustomed to comforting, or being comforted in this manner, so enured to the rigid and spartan cadence of military life. Yet his instincts from a further time back prompt to remain as a silent support for the young woman in her grief.
Katya: T-thank you...
She doesn't push him away and is grateful for his company. She cries more confidently now, but tries to make herself sound quieter so others don't hear.
Andrei: Just cry as you see fit, devushka.
Andrei notices she doesn't push him away. He remains still, and then rests his hand on her shoulder, instinctively gripping her shoulder gently and rubbing his thumb over her shoulder as well in a consoling gesture.
Andrei: So you were close with your father, then? He must have been a good man to have his daughter grieve over him as you are now.
Katya: Yes, he was very good to me. He was very supportive. He was the best friend I've ever had...
Andrei: *nods* I can understand that. You both were alike in many ways, and he understood you. And you valued you could understand him. You didn't have explain yourself to him. He was a good man, then.
Katya nods sadly and grows quiet.
Katya: You're a good reader of people, you really are.
Andrei: I am? Perhaps. My father, we were opposites, but he understood me well enough, we never had to talk much. I understood him, all he needed to do was look at me and I knew all he wanted to tell me. I've lost him for over 15 years. The grief never really dulls. But you live with it. Grief takes on its own energy.
Andrei: So... what is your name, devushka? We never introduced ourselves.
Katya: I'm sorry to hear about that....about your father.
Katya looks at him compassionately and gives him a small smile when she hears that he's interested in knowing her name.
Katya: My name is Yekaterina Timofeevna Luneva. I'm a former factory worker. Who are you?
Andrei: *releases his arm, sets aside from her some inches to properly offer his hand for handshake* Polkovnik Andrei Daniolovich Novokshonov, stationed at Novocherkassk Oblast.
Katya: Nice to meet you, Polkovnik Novokshonov.
*she gives him a hearty shake*
Katya looks a bit more cheerful now, glad to have made a new acquaintance.
Katya: So you are headed towards Moscow like I am?
Andrei : *nods, smiling for a moment that her spirits seem calmed.*
Andrei: *huffs a sharp breath* Yes, medical leave- have to see some surgeon for removing a bullet here. *points to his chest, slightly annoyed the recollection of the situation of how he received the injury*
Katya's eyes widen with concern.
Katya: I'm glad that you're getting help for that though. How did you receive the injury?
A sharp tsk escapes his tongue. A wry expression jags his face.
Andrei: You really want to know, then?
Andrei: Nothing heroic, as what you might be thinking, devushka. No, one of my recruits, some insubordinate whelp, didn't listen to me about not keeping his barrel clear. During target practice, the sorry idiot pulls the trigger and the recoil jerked him into shooting a second shot up higher. I was alongside trying to instruct he and the others when he did this, and the bullet hit me in the chest. It wasn't deep- my bone stopped it from entering the heart. The doctors could leave it in there and nothing would happen- aside from some pain. But they want to me go to some surgeon up here, get it removed. Fearing infection or the bullet moving. These administrators fuss like old women. I've dealt with worse than a bullet!
Katya grits her teeth.
Katya: That sounds very frightening. You were very fortunate that you did not die. It seems as if you were fated to survive, then. The military can be very brutal. And those administrators, I've seen, can be very easily bribed and influenced...
A steely hardness glazes over Andrei's eyes, he becomes, for a second, momentarily cold and sharp- not at his traveling company, but at the mention of survival and the military administration.
Katya: It's a tough world out there.