Book 6. The Family Book (2002)
Conversation with my son
Having trekked from the river the whole way to Anastasia’s glade all on my own, I felt right at home as I approached the familiar places. This time nobody was there to greet me. It even gave me a good feeling to walk through the taiga all on my own, without a guide.
I wasn’t about to cry out, or call Anastasia’s name. Perhaps she was occupied with her own affairs. When she was free, she would feel my presence and come to me on her own.
Spying my favourite spot on the lakeshore where Anastasia and I were wont to spend time together, I decided I would change my clothes first before sitting down and relaxing after my trip.
I took out of my backpack a dark grey wrinkle-resistant suit, a thin white sweater and a new pair of comfortable shoes. In getting ready for my trip I had also thought of taking along a white shirt and tie, but then decided that the shirt would only get wrinkled, and there would be no place to iron it in the taiga. But I had the suit packed in the store so it wouldn’t wrinkle.
I decided I should present myself to my son in a solemn, elegant manner, and so I spent a great deal of time and effort in thinking about my outward appearance.
I had brought along a battery-powered razor and a mirror. Resting the mirror on a tree-branch, I proceeded to shave and comb my hair. Then I sat down on a small hillock, took out a notepad and pen to round out my plan for meeting my son with some thoughts that had come to me along the way
My son will soon be five years old. Of course he can talk already The last time I saw him he was still very little, he wasn’t talking yet, but by now there must be a lot of things he can understand. He probably natters on with Anastasia and his grandfathers for days on end. I had it all set in my mind that just as soon as I saw Anastasia I would let her know how I had planned out my meeting with our son and what I would say to him.
For the past five years I had been diligently studying all the various systems of child-raising, taking from them what I considered the best and easiest to understand. After talking with educational experts and child psychologists I had arrived at the conclusions I needed for myself. Now, before meeting with my son, I wanted to talk with Anastasia about these conclusions, along with the plan I had worked out — to think through everything once again in detail, this time with her. Perhaps Anastasia could suggest what first words I should say to him, and what pose to adopt while saying them. I had decided the pose was important, too, since a father should appear to his son as a significant person. But first Anastasia had to introduce me to him.
The first point on my notepad read: Anastasia presents me to my son.
All she had to do was introduce me with some simple words, such as: “Here, son, here before you is your birth father.”
But she had to say them quite solemnly, so that our son would be able to feel from her tone of voice his father’s significance, and subsequently treat him with respect.
All at once I felt everything around become quiet, as though put on alert. The sudden onset of silence didn’t frighten me. This always happened every time I met Anastasia in the taiga. The taiga and all its residents literally froze, listening, watching and deciding whether the newcomer might have brought their mistress any kind of unpleasantness. Then, if no aggression were detected, everything would calm down.
I surmised from the ensuing silence that Anastasia had quietly approached me from behind. It wasn’t a difficult thing to sense her presence, especially since I always experienced something like a warming sensation in my back — something only Anastasia was capable of producing with her look. I didn’t turn around right away, but continued sitting there for some time, luxuriating in the pleasant and cheering warmth. Finally I turned, and lo and behold...
There before me was standing my little son, his bare feet planted firmly on the ground. He had grown. His straw- blond hair was already falling in curls down to his shoulders. He was dressed in a collarless shirt woven from nettle fibres. His features resembled those of Anastasia’s — perhaps mine too, though this was not obvious at first glance.
Turning to face him, my hands pressed against the ground, I found myself standing on all fours, watching him intently, oblivious to everything else in the world. He in turn kept his eye silently trained on me, watching me with Anastasia’s kind gaze. Perhaps the unexpectedness of it all would have continued to prevent me from saying anything for a long time, but he was the first to speak.
“Greetings to your bright thoughts, my dear Papa!”
“Eh?... And greetings, of course, to you as well,” I responded.
“Forgive me, Papa.”
“Forgive you for what?”
“For interrupting your important reflections. I have been standing at a distance, so as not to interfere, but I wanted to come and be close to you. Please, Papa, let me sit beside you quietly until you have completed your reflections.”
“Eh? Okay Sure, have a seat.”
He quickly approached, sat down a half-metre away and didn’t move a muscle. I continued kneeling distractedly on all fours. As he was settling in, I managed to think: I must adopt a deep-thoughtpose while I finish my ‘reflections’ as he put it. I need to think of what to do next.
I took up what I thought was a dignified pose, and for a while we just sat there side by side without saying a word. Then I turned to my little son and asked him:
“Well, how are things going with you?”
Upon hearing my voice he gave a joyful start, turned to me and looked me straight in the eye. His look told me he felt tense, not knowing how to answer my simple question. But he finally responded:
“I cannot, Papa, give you an answer to your question. I do not know how things are going. Here, Papa, life is going on. It is something very good, life is.”
Somehow I’ve got to carry on the conversation, I thought. I can’t afford to lose the momentum. And so I asked him another traditional question:
“Well, how are you doing here? You minding your Mama?” This time he replied at once:
“I am always happy to mind my Mama when she speaks. And when my Grandfathers speak, it is interesting to listen to them too. I talk to them as well, and they listen to me. But Mama Anastasia thinks that I talk too much — I ought to think more, says Mama Anastasia. But my thoughts come very quickly and I want to talk differently”
“What do you mean, differently?”
“Like my Grandfathers, I want to arrange my words one after another, like Mama does, like you do, Papa.”
‘And how do you know how I arrange my words?”
“Mama showed me. I get very interested when Mama starts talking with your words.”
“Really? Wow!... Well... and what do you want to be?”
Again this very ordinary question, which adults frequently ask children, was apparently beyond his understanding. After a brief pause he replied:
“But I already Papa.”
“I know that you are, but I meant: what do you want to become? When you grow up, what are you going to do?”
“I shall be you, Papa, when I grow up. I shall carry on what you do now:”
“How do you know what I do?”
“Mama Anastasia told me.”
‘And what all has she been telling you about me?”
‘A whole lot. Mama Anastasia tells me that you are such a... What is the word? Oh yes, I remember — that you are such a hero, my dear Papa!”
“Yes. It is hard for you. Mama wants life to be easier for you. She wants you to be able to rest in normal conditions for Man, but you go to a place where many people find it very hard to live. That is why you go away, to do good to people there. I was very sad to learn that there are people who do not have their own glade and they are always being frightened and made to live in a way they themselves do not want. They cannot pick their own food. They have to... well, work, I think it is called. They have to do not what they want themselves but what somebody tells them to do. And for this they are given paper — money — and they then exchange this money for food. They have simply forgotten a bit how it is possible to live otherwise and enjoy life. And you, Papa, you go to that place where it is hard for people to live, to bring good to the people there.”
“Eh? Yes, I do go there... There should be good everywhere. But how do you plan to carry on with the good? — how are you preparing for it right now? You need to study, to learn.”
“I am learning, Papa. I like learning very much, and I try my best.”
“What are you learning, what subject?”
Again, he didn’t understand the question right off, but then replied:
“I learn the whole subject. Just as soon as I chase it up to the speed Mama Anastasia has, I shall immediately understand the whole subject, or all the subjects. Yes, it is better to say: all the subjects.”
“What do you chase up to the speed your Mama has?”
“My thought. But for the time being I cannot chase it up as quickly Mama’s thought runs more quickly Her thought is quicker than my Grandfathers’ — quicker than a ray of sunshine. She is so quick that only He thinks faster.”
“Who? Who’s He?”
“God — our Father.”
“Oh yes, of course. Still, you have to try Yes, you must try your best, my son.”
“Fine, Papa, I shall try even harder.”
In an effort to continue the conversation about learning without saying something stupid and meaningless, I reached into my backpack and pulled out a book at random — one of the books I had brought with me. It turned out to be a Grade 5 textbook called A history of the ancient world. I explained to my son:
“You see, Volodya, this is one of the many books people are writing today. This book tells children about how life began on the Earth, how Man and society developed. It’s got a lot of colour illustrations along with a printed text. This book outlines the history of mankind. Scholars — they’re such smart people, well, smarter than others, or so people say — have described in this book the life of primordial people on the Earth. When you learn to read, you’ll be able to learn a lot of interesting stuff from books like this.”
“I know how to read, Papa.”
“Eh? Really? Your Mama’s teaching you to read?”
“Mama Anastasia once drew the letters for me in the sand and said their names aloud to me.”
“D’you mean to tell me you memorised all the letters right off?”
“I did. There are very few of them. I was sad to learn there are so few.”
I didn’t pay any attention at first to his remark about the fewness of the letters in the alphabet. I was interested in hearing whether or not my son could actually read a printed text. I opened the book to the first page, handed it to him and said:
“Here, try to read this.”