The fate of many of them seemed so poignantly sad
that to speak of them in even the most tender, quiet, kind words
would have been like touching a heart torn open
with a rough and insensitive hand.
It was really quite impossible to speak of them at all..
But an invisible force was crushing him.
He could feel its weight, its hypnotic power;
it was forcing him to think as it wanted, to write as it dictated.
This force was inside him;
it could dissolve his will and cause his heart to stop beating;
it came between him and his family;
it insinuated itself into his past, into his childhood memories.
He began to feel that he really was untalented and boring,
someone who wore out the people around him with dull chatter.
Even his work seemed to have grown dull,
to be covered with a layer of dust;
the thought of it no longer filled him with light and joy.
Only people who have never felt such a force themselves
can be surprised that others submit to it.
Those who have felt it, on the other hand,
feel astonished that a man can rebel against it even for a moment
– with one sudden word of anger,
one timid gesture of protest.
There is nothing more difficult than to be a stepson of time;
there is no heavier fate than to live in an age that is not your own.
Time loves only those it has given birth to itself:
its own children, its own heroes, its own labourers.
Never can it come to love the children of a past age,
and more than a woman can love the heroes of a past age,
or a stepmother love the children of another woman.
And so he asked: “I was right, wasn’t I?”
Lyudmilla shook her head. Decades of intimacy can also divide people.
‘Lyuda,’ said Viktor humbly,
‘people who are in the right often don’t know how to behave.
They lose their tempers and swear.
They act tactlessly and intolerantly.
Usually they get blamed for everything that goes wrong at home and at work.
While those who are in the wrong, those who hurt others,
always know how to behave.
They act calmly, logically and tactfully – and appear to be in the right.’’
Why had his life been so hard?
He had not preached nor had he taught –
he had remained exactly what he had been from his birth:
a human being.
The slope of the mountain opened before him.
From behind the pass the peaks of the oak trees showed.
In his childhood, he had gone there into the forest twilight,
and searched out the remnants of the vanished life of the Circassians –
the fruit trees gone wild,
the traces of the fences around their obliterated houses.
Perhaps his own home was still standing there just as changelessly
as the streets and the stream seemed changeless.
Here was one more bend of the road.
For a moment, it seemed to him as if an impossibly bright light,
brighter than any he had ever seen in his life,
had flooded the earth.
A few steps more and in this light he would see that home,
and his mother would come out to meet him, her prodigal son,
and he would kneel down before her,
and her young and beautiful hands would lie upon his gray,
He saw the thickets of thorns and hops.
There was nothing left of the house nor of the well –
only a few stones that shone white in the dusty grass,
burned by the sun.
He stood there – gray, bent, and changeless.