Story 16 - Horizons of Snow.
His uniform was so highly important to him, that he denied himself the comfort of wearing the warm parka that everyone else wore. Judging by his decorations, he had worked his way up through the ranks. This
success, evidently supported the myth.
"Have you ever noticed how arrogant an accomplished idealist can be?" I whispered to Anton when Rostislav strutted through the icy cold to the terminal building on one of the stops, in nothing but his uniform. He was a model 'prisoner' of the bureaucracy state; a perfect puppet. He always used the royal 'we' when he should have referred to himself and his own personal feelings. Still, he helped us whenever help was needed. The very fact that he was with us, spoke of his love for his country. He just hadn't learned to extend this love also to the people that were the very essence of his country.
Fortunately for us all, he was mostly quiet. Whenever he did speak, I always got uncomfortable as though I was being addressed by a royal potentate in whose sight I was nothing. He was speaking from a great distance, not man to man. I tried to change that. I asked about his family, and about the impact of his job on his family. Still, the ice could not be thawed. Every aspect of our conversation was translated by him into the cold language of state relationships, ism to ism. He was like a machine, rather than a man. That's what scared me about him, I realized there were probably others like him in command centers of nuclear missile bases. He was a model servant bound to an ideal with blind loyalty. I also felt a great pity towards him.
When I had dared to ask about his private life, whether he was married and how many children he had, he replied that in
the communist society these things had not been significant, nor were they now. He said that the Russian society is quite unlike the American society, where controlling people has become a national obsession, which he said was reflected in America's determination to control the whole world.
I couldn't believe my ears when I heard this answer. Still, to some degree he was right. Of course he couldn't see perfidious Albion standing behind him with the baton of a conductor, determining his every response, just as America
responded to the same baton of the same conductor. I couldn't blame him for not realizing that.
I was going to say something to him in rebuttal, pointing to earlier genocides by his beloved Soviet Union that no longer existed, but this would have been rude.
Since it was obvious what kind of game Rostislav was playing, it was no task to actually please him. Still, playing such games didn't produce a very satisfying association. It would have been easier to have a satisfying association with a lifeless machine.
"Maybe I am overstating the case," I said to Anton when I spoke to her about him when he was not on the plane, at one of the many stops.
"I don't think so," was her reply. She was fully aware of his strange character. "People were once selected for this very characteristic," she said.
Since there was no meal service on board the aircraft, we stopped for dinner at Lensk. Lensk looked no different than any of the small places enroute where the plane sometimes stopped long enough for us to get off and get warmed up. We needed these stops for more than one reason. Rostislav was one of them. In this pioneering land, people were still beautifully human, with a practical, down to earth touch that was reflected in their ability to get the plane's heating system repaired. The food was also down to earth, honest and simple. No junk food could be found, but hot steaming sausages, cabbage, potatoes, with milk to drink, or coffee, even beer. Everyone we met was friendly. One of the pilots approached us and asked if we would like to join the crew at their table. Anton said yes. She introduced us, and then chatted and joked with them. It was a time for laughter. Since my cover was that I was an American tourist, Anton did her best to translate everything that was being said, except not everything was translatable when it came to the jokes. The subtlety of humor is so easily lost in translation. Still, she did her best as far as I could tell.