Canceling lessons is the worst activity ever. I had to call on eighteen families this weekend and recommend my colleagues. I hate looking children in the eye and telling them that I’m abandoning them to the whim of Fate.
Adela Beauvais actually cried.
Of course, Adela has always been in love with me—I think—and in the foyer this afternoon, she did say that I'm cute—and she is really pretty—which doesn't matter because she's scandalously young for me—but the point is, she is very talented at languages, and she will miss learning Russian. I will miss our lessons, too—I don’t know any other fifteen-year-olds who could have grasped passive participles so quickly.
Sometimes I suspect that my students don’t love languages as much as I do. So I was a little cheered that Mademoiselle Beauvais was in tears. (Should I feel guilty?) Her younger brother Blain seemed less upset, but I wasn’t surprised since I really don’t think he enjoys the Russian language in the same way his sister does. I explained myself as best I could to Madame Beauvais, and she looked sympathetic and a little envious. I know from inadvertent comments dropped by Blain and Adela that Monsieur Beauvais decided to stay in Moscow to protect his business interests, and now can’t find a way to get his family out of the city.
I sort of wish I could take the children with me, even though it would be more dangerous for them. At least I would know whether something bad had happened to them. Plus, I know that I would take good care of them. Not that there’s anything wrong with Madame Beauvais! It’s just that I keep having these urges to kidnap children and take them home and feed them.
Walking home, I felt very odd. I—and the people for whom I work—are living a bizarre, precariously balanced life. We try to go on living like nothing is wrong, and all the time we know that, at any moment, we could be blasted into tiny little pieces.
Or imprisoned. I know that the only reason I wasn’t thrown into prison when the Soviet Union attacked Poland is that I’m on good terms with Chairman Molotov. Vyacheslav Mikhailovich once needed an emergency translator for a conference with the Spanish diplomat, and I stepped in. He found my apartment — just down the street from his uncle’s old house. (His uncle is Aleksandr Scriabin!)
I hate accepting favors from Bolsheviks—it feels like betraying my country and my beliefs. But I’ve come to grudgingly respect Vyacheslav Mikhailovich. He’s a teetotaler and a vegetarian. And he always dresses professionally. Trotsky can call him a mediocrity, but he’s proved that he knows how to get the job done. …Even though “getting the job done” usually means doing Stalin’s dirty work and deporting kulaks to labor camps.
Okay, so maybe I have less respect for him than I thought. Also, it was his treaty that divvyed up Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union. Not to mention several other countries. The Finns named the Molotov cocktail for him. On second thought, I hate him.
I think I must defend myself by saying that he got the apartment for me before I knew he signed the treaty. It was a secret agreement! There was no way I could have known!
It’s so cold. There aren’t any explosion sounds today, so I can’t help but think maybe the soldiers are cold, too. Well, I’m happy that they’re having a break, but I can’t imagine having to stay outside all the time in weather like this. I sat out on my balcony today for two hours, because I had a whim and wanted to see how long I could stay outside before I couldn’t stand it anymore.
There is no way I’m going to be able to walk to Poland. I won’t even be able to make it to Tula. Hitchhiking sounds increasingly wonderful.
The snow is falling heavily, and traffic is completely suspended. Even the metro is closed in places. It’s the kind of snow that comes down in sharp little pellets that sting your cheeks and then hit the ground and melt a little until it forms a wet, packed-down blanket.
I thought I was going to die, sitting out there. My feet eventually hurt so badly that I took off my shoes and just sat on my feet, curling up into my overcoat. My nostrils almost froze shut and made it hard to breathe. The snow pellets smacked into my face and actually made tears come to my eyes. But my hands were warm enough in my mittens and pockets, and my ears were warm. I was wearing the blue scarf that Odeta knitted for me.
I remember that she once made me a red one and gave it to me for Christmas. It was awful, pure torture. It had a tiny little flaw on one end, and all I could see whenever I looked at it was that little flaw. It nearly drove me insane. Of course, I knew that I was being completely irrational, and I didn’t want to hurt my little sister’s feelings, so I wore it. Every single day. Until she made the blue one, thank God.
Odeta must be… seventeen now. That would make Kaja twenty and Ksenia fourteen. Assuming they’re still alive. I wonder what happened with Kaja and that student from Płock… They’d been seeing each other for over two years when I left Warsaw. They could be married by now.
I don’t know whether I’m more depressed by the thought of my sister being married when the closest thing I have to a girlfriend is an infatuated fifteen-year-old, or by the futility of marriage itself in light of current world events.
I was stupid when I made my list. You can’t buy Reichsmark because they’re enemy currency, and you can’t buy złotych because the Soviet government says that our beloved Polska doesn’t exist. I guess I’ll have to get by on rubles, my decreasingly valuable skills, and the pass code for the account in Zurich.
I did close my Moscow account and settle with the building supervisor, so it’s too late to talk myself out of going now. I’ll leave on Monday. That’s a good day to leave because it’s the beginning of the week, and it’s the first day of December, and it’ll give me all day tomorrow to pray and say goodbye to the city.
After all, it is a beautiful old city, even though it’s been my prison for three years. It’s not the city’s fault that the Soviet Union is a completely evil entity. It’s not the city’s fault that it’s being attacked by another completely evil entity bent on destruction of all that’s good in the world.
Okay, so I can never, ever, let anyone else find this journal.
Isn’t it odd how, in every human soul, there is a little spark of goodness, and yet when people gather into massive groups, the groups always turn out badly? Everybody’s gone crazy, and the innocent are trapped in the middle of it, and soon we’ll all join in and just start killing each other, too.
If I can just get my family to somewhere safe, then I can get to Paris or London and join up with the Polish government.
I finished the dizi yesterday. It has an exotic sound because of the scale used, and I’ve had to make up all new tunes to play on it, but I like it very much. I’ve taken to it unexpectedly quickly, actually. My fingers feel very comfortable on it.
It works better than other wind instruments when it comes to that thing. It must just be the particular way it’s shaped, or the material it’s made of, but it seems to focus my purpose much better than anything else I’ve played. I made the neighbor’s cat fall asleep in less than thirty seconds! Isn’t that wonderful? And I actually—you will never believe this—set a fire on the balcony just by playing and thinking about heat!
When I’m playing the dizi, it’s almost like the dreams I have are more like actual events. Like I’m having somebody else’s memories. In them, the person uses the dizi to put children to sleep and make people feel calm or inspired.
I wonder if this is something everybody can do, or if there’s something special about me. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone do something comparable, but I hesitate to label myself as extraordinary. This is because my natural tendency is to believe that I’m breathtakingly amazing, and I have to be careful or else I’ll end up as the most highbrow angel in the ivory tower.
And what’s going on with the memories? Why would I be remembering someone else’s life? I wonder if it’s some sort of vision from God. I mean, who else has the kind of power to do something like this? I think I would be able to tell if it were demonic in nature. I’ll have to pray about it.
But wouldn’t it be exciting if I really were intended to do something important? I mean, we are supposed to use our talents for good. Although, good right now means stopping the war, and I’m not sure how I can stop a war with sleepy children.
So… maybe I'm destined for great things! And Adela Beauvais thinks I'm cute!