Thursday 13th January 1853 – The Punishment of Serfs.
My head was hurting. It got worse as the time passed. I knew I had to stop the tears from forming but I could not help it. I simply loved Grigori. The tears that were streaming down my face were acceptable. That was what I felt. Anyone who knew my brother Grigori would understand. That wide expanse of a smile, his firm handshake that humbly passed warmth and kindness to another man in despair was gone. I now knew how the red sky felt of an evening. Just as the sun sets at night the sky looks out and feels sad at its departure, I too miss that warm accompanying glow. I wiped away the tears but my eyes flicker and I feel the torrent of more. I simply loved Grigori. I tried to sleep but the room was too warm. I wriggled and turned but all I could see beside me was Grigori my brother. My mind began to race. I started to feel hot and my face was tender to touch. I started to think what he had done to upset our lord. Rodchenko never liked Grigori. He said he was lazy and indolent but my brother was far from it. I was the one that used to sing to pick my spirits up, not Grigori. I used to gaze at the shapes the clouds made and create wonderful stories about each one, not Grigori. I was the indolent one, the one that should be punished. I began to mouth the words ‘why’. Doing that somehow made me drift off to sleep.
My sleep was interrupted by the loud noise made by the cows in the barn. The lord Rodchenko that my family and I work for makes it clear that all workers of the land share the same space. The barn therefore makes no distinction between Adam & Eve nor the rest of creation that God made plentiful. The barn is for all. Like most mornings my stomach begins to develop the sickness and the heat attacks all senses at once it seems, especially in the summertime. I began to stretch my arms demonstrating to myself I really was ready for the day ahead. If my body is ready it means my mind is too. Last night still left unanswered questions. I had not resolved in my mind Grigori’s departure. The puzzle was still present. The puzzle would not be complete until I began work that morning.
As I went out into the field I found my uncle Anatoly as I would of any morning, working on his strip of land for the lord. I knew Anatoly would have the answers.
‘Uncle my heart is heavy and I only have myself to blame. Why have they taken Grigori’ I said with misty eyes.
‘Nikolay my child do not weep. Destiny has decided. We cannot change fate. Almighty God and the little father have made it so,’ he replied without turning his back to face me.
I made no sound but took on board what he said. I know the Tsar has a reason for doing things. Our little father can do no wrong. I cursed and cursed again thinking of those laughing faces. Those meddlesome men the Tsar calls advisers. Rodchenko our Lord that cracks the whip. Also those brutes in the village community, the mir, who most probably possess a selfish and wicked reason for their input into the whole sordid affair.
With that my Uncle Anatoly turned around.
‘Grigori did not share. Oh how you must know! Your father could not look at the men [those within the mir community] and know his own son objected to the common good. Times are hard my child and we must work together. The mir is as a important to all of us as is our own strip of land. God has put us here to work together and so we shall.’
Grigori was stubborn. I knew that. Uncle continued.
‘Rodchenko wanted to know why many of his fields were not worked hard enough. Many in the village are too sick. Andropov’s two eldest children have the fever. They can’t help their plight. But we can and we should do.’
My stomach began to feel heavier. The puzzle was unravelling more and more and Gregori’s face was starting to become distant in my mind.
‘Rodchenko came to the village and demanded to have answers. His fields were not being worked on! How can we ignore a man like Rodchenko? You have seen that face child and heard the crack of his whip. It is like Satan walks the land.’
Tears were starting to form in my eyes. I could barely recognise Grigori now. I tried to hold him in my thoughts.
‘Our Lord demanded we do something about it. He wanted to cast aside those responsible and punish them like God punishes his own children.’
I went to speak to ask one final question but my mouth dried up. It seemed as though my brain knew the answer now and didn’t take the valuable effort to work.
‘True many were sick but they could only be helped by us doing the work for them. Your father along with the other elders decided that Gregori’s views had caused the wrath of the despicable Rodchenko.
Uncle Anatoly stood up tall and strongly as an Ox. In many regards he looked like Moses delivering the Decalogue from God. His final words were in many ways a final judgment on the matter.
‘Gregori was chosen my son for the reasons I have given. Our family and our community bears the brunt because of his actions. One hears that life will be tough for him but alas he no longer has to see the face of Rodchenko.
As I laid down in the barn that night I did not shed tears. Nor could I visualise Gregori any longer. He was gone. My brother banished from his field, his village and his home. Grigori would find life very difficult in the Imperial army, a punishment for many of us who disobey our lords. I began to think instead of Rodchenko, sat on his porch reading a letter informing him of my brother’s punishment, forced against his wishes into the Imperial Army. Thinking of Rodchenko I began to see him bearing a wide expansive smile, just like Grigori’s. Thinking of the gruelling nature of what is meted out to the army, the whippings and beatings for insubordination was the product of that smile. I instantly shook it from my head. I did go to sleep without shedding a tear, for I learnt to not love Grigori. One quickly learns how to do that.