text > Vladimir Sorokin "In Transit" (translation)

– Well, on the whole, comrades, your district performed well during this year – Georgii Ivanovich smiled, leaning slightly backward – this is what I was instructed to tell you. – Those sitting at the long desk smiled in response, exchanging glances among themselves. Georgii Ivanovich wagged his head and threw up his hands:

– When everything is well, comrades, then it is indeed well, and when it’s bad, then why take offense. Last year you were too late with the sowing campaign, your factory did not complete the plan, and the sports complex, remember, all the hassles? Eh? Remember?

Ivanov who sat on the left nodded:

– Yes, Georgii Ivanovich, of course we sinned, we are guilty.

– You yourself are the executive body, and you thought that the construction workers would be capable of managing without you and keeping with the deadline. But they are executors, why would they hurry. Your factory, however, is known in the entire Soviet Union, and we need the plastic very much, but last year 78%... What is this? This can’t be serious? Panteleev came to me… 78%, so what is this? Really, well, thank you comrade Panteleev for your organization of the industry in the district, eh?

– The assembled raikom employees smiled. Georgii Ivanovich sipped at his glass of cold tea, licking his lips.

– But this year it is a real pleasure. Your new secretary, pity he is not here today, came to me already last year; Panteleev, he visited us in the fall, and Gorohov – in spring. He came and reported to us in a business-like fashion about all the causes, about everything, responsibly indeed, reported about everything, you understand? The builders had to carry cement from another district. But that’s no good at all. For six years Panteleev could not get into the Kirovskii district. It is nearby, only 160 kilometers, and they have a drywall factory, and next to it there is a cement plant. That’s no good at all, comrades.

– We, Georgii Ivanovich, actually went there – Vorobiev leaned forward – but we were refused straight away. Back then they were connected with the Burkovski plant, with the construction site, but now they have finished with that – they were free, therefore that time it worked.

– If they hadn’t been pressured from above we wouldn’t have gotten our cement yet – Deveatov interrupted him – everybody needs cement these days.

– Georgii Ivanovich, of course, Panteleev was guilty, but if someone had pressed hard on them, we might have gotten some. They must have had some reserves.

– Of course there was a reserve, it is impossible that there wasn’t, there was, there definitely was – Georgii Ivanovich sipped his tea. On the whole, comrades, let’s not guess, and in the future let’s be more professional. You couldn’t figure this out by yourselves – shake down the vices and the deputies, consult the managers, the workers. And let’s maintain our reputation in the future, like this year; you started well so keep steady! Is it agreed?

– Agreed.

– Of course we agree.

– We agree Georgii Ivanovich.

– We’ll strive.

– We will do our best.

– This is wonderful comrades – Georgii Ivanovich stood up. – As far as your secretary is concerned, I will see him. Don’t let him be upset that I did not notify him about my visit, I was in transit. Let him get well. For what is this – an attack of quinsy in August, this couldn’t be serious.

– The assembled also stood up.

– He is strong, Georgii Ivanovich, he’ll get well fast. This must have been accidental, for he rarely gets sick. It’s a pity that it happened just when you decided to visit us.

Georgii Ivanovich looked at them smiling.

– Never mind, never mind, from now on I will show up unannounced. Take Panteleev for instance, when he appears suddenly at the door of my office, then everything is clear: he has come to repent and confess his sins.

Everybody laughed, and Georgii Ivanovich continued:

– Today I was in transit, decided to take a look – everything is fine. This what a new secretary means. Alright comrades. – He looked at his watch. – Three o’clock, it’s late… Look comrades, now all of you please go back to your places, and I will take a half an hour walk, I’d like to take a look around.

– Georgii Ivanovich, perhaps you would like to join us for lunch? – asked Iakushev approaching him. –  It is here nearby, it has been arranged already…

– No, no, I don’t want to, thank you, I don’t want to, but you all go and have lunch, go to your working places, in short, mind your own business. And please do not follow me. I will do my own walking on all the floors. In short, everybody minds his own business, comrades.

Smiling he stepped through the waiting room into the corridor. The functionaries of the district committee followed him in the corridor then began to disperse, glancing back. Iakushev nearly began to follow but Georgii Ivanovich shook his finger at him and he smilingly dropped back.

Georgii Ivanovich set out along the corridor. The corridor was hollow and cold. The floor was composed of light-colored stone slabs, the walls were painted in a docile and pale blue. Square lamps were shining from the ceiling. Georgii Ivanovich walked to the end then climbed the wide staircase to the third floor. Here he ran into two functionaries, who greeted him loudly and affably. He greeted them in response.

On the third floor the walls were painted in a pale green. Georgii Ivanovich spent some time in front of the information stand. He lifted from the floor a fallen thumbtack and carefully fixed a protruding corner of a loose leaflet. A woman showed up in the next door.

– Good afternoon Georgii Ivanovich.

– Good afternoon.

– The woman walked along the corridor. Georgii Ivanovich looked at the door. A metallic plaque hung on the light-brown upholstered surface of the door: “Fomin V. I., Head of the Propaganda Department.”

Georgii Ivanovich cracked open the door:

– May I?

– Fomin at his desk raised his head, and jumped up:

– Please, please, Georgii Ivanovich, come in.

– Georgii Ivanovich stepped in and then took a look around. Over the desk hung a portrait of Lenin, in the corner there were two massive safes.

– Here I am sitting, Georgii Ivanovich – said Fomin approaching with a large smile on his face – too many things piled up over the summer.

– Well winter is for hibernation – smiled Georgii Ivanovich. – You’ve got a good office, it’s very cozy.

– Do you like it?

– Yes, its small but cozy. What’s your name?

– Vladimir Ivanovich.

– Well here we are, two Ivanovichs.

– Yes – laughed Fomin tugging at his blazer – and two heads of departments. Georgii Ivanovich moved towards the desk smiling.

– Vladimir Ivanovich is it true that there is so much work?

– Oh, yes – Fomin made a serious face – there is plenty, now the conference of printing press workers is coming soon. And the journalists are somewhat sluggish, there are problems with the factory’s anniversary album. Haven’t decided yet… All sorts of complications… And the secretary is sick.

– What is this about? What kind of album?

– The anniversary one. This year our factory is fifty years old.

– That’s quite a figure, of course. I didn’t know.

– Well, so we decided to make a special anniversary album. It is actually already made. I’ll show it to you now – Fomin dragged the drawer of the desk, pulled out a dummy copy of the album and passed it to Georgii Ivanovich.

– This is the dummy. It was made by two lads from Caluga, very good artists. On the front cover is the factory, and on the back cover is our lake and the forest.

Georgii Ivanovich was paging through the dummy:

– Aha… yes… very beautiful. So what?

– Well the problem is that the first vice doesn’t like it. He says it’s boring.

– What did he find boring about this beauty? A marvelous view.

– That’s also what I told him, but he wouldn’t agree under any circumstances.

– Are you talking about Stepanov?

– Yes. And the secretary is sick. For two weeks we cannot approve it. We’re delaying the artists, the printers.

– Well let me then sign it.

– I, Georgii Ivanovich, would be so grateful to you. This would take a load off my shoulders.

Georgii Ivanovich took his pen and wrote on the back cover: “I approve of the view of the lake,” swiftly signing underneath.

– Thank you, thank you so much, – Fomin took the booklet out of his hands, looked at the signature and hid it in the drawer – now with this booklet I will show them. I’ll tell them that the lake was accepted by the deputy head of the obkom. Enough dallying.

– Yes, tell them this – smiled Georgii Ivanovich and screwing up his eyes looked at some papers that laid next to the blotter. And what is this, it looks so neatly done?

– This is the June directive of the obkom.

– Ah, ah, is it the one about the harvesting campaign?

– Yes. You must know it better than we do.

Georgii Ivanovich smiled.

– Oh yes, I have spent plenty of time with it. Your secretary came twice and we racked our brains over it.

Fomin nodded seriously.

– I see.

– Well, Georgii Ivanovich sighed – Vladimir Ivanovich, we can only dream about the rest. We’ll settle down only when we kick the bucket.

Fomin bobbed his head in sympathy and smiled. Georgii Ivanovich took the directive, looked at the neat type-written text, paged through, slightly shifting and disheveling the pages.

­– So what do you think about it, Vladimir Ivanovich.

– About the directive?

– Yes.

– In my opinion it is very practical. It is accurate and clear. I read it with much interest.

– This means that we didn’t spend our time in vain.

– It is a very useful document, no doubt. It is not a mere clerkly paper, but a serious document written with a genuine party approach.

– I’m glad that you like it. Usually these directives are collecting dust in safes. Listen Vladimir Ivanovich… take this directive and put it on the safe.

– On the top?

– Yes.

Fomin took from him the bundle of papers and put it very carefully on the safe. Georgii Ivanovich in the meanwhile came up to the desk, pulled the drawer out and took the album dummy.

– It’s good that I remembered – he began to page through the album – you know, Vladimir Ivanovich, what we are about to do… well… perhaps… that is. You know so there wouldn’t be any…  really.

He placed the open album on the desk, quickly took off his blazer and threw it on the armchair. Then he slowly climbed on the desk, stood up and straightened himself. Smiling in astonishment Fomin looked at him. Georgii Ivanovich unbuttoned his pants, lowered them, then pulled down his underpants and glancing back, squatted over the album. He gripped his lean arms with his hands in front of him. Fomin looked at him with his mouth wide open. Georgii Ivanovich glanced back once more, moving his bent legs back and forth, then stood still and, groaning, stared past Fomin in the distance. Fomin paled as he suddenly began his retreat towards the door but Georgii Ivanovich said in a low voice: “See… yourself… stomach…” Fomin cautiously came to the desk and raised his arms in confusion:

– Georgii Ivanovich how is that… why… I don’t understand…

Georgii Ivanovich groaned loudly, stretching his bloodless lips he opened his eyes wide. Fomin went around the desk avoiding his knees. The flat buttocks of Georgii Ivanovich hovered over the opened album dummy. Fomin stretched his hands towards the neat little book but Georgii Ivanovich turned an angry face towards him: “Do not touch it, I said don’t touch it smart aleck.” Fomin backed up towards the wall. Georgii Ivanovich farted. His hairless buttocks swung. The brown spot that appeared in between his lean buttocks grew bigger and with each moment longer. Fomin, swallowing convulsively, leaned forward from the wall, stretching his arms and placing his hands above the album in order to protect it from the brown sausage. The sausage broke away and fell in his hands. Another one, thinner and lighter, followed. Fomin also accepted this one. Georgii Ivanovich’s short white penis swung, releasing a thick and intermittent yellow jet over the surface of the desk. Georgii Ivanovich farted again and, groaning, released the third portion. Fomin caught it too. His urine began to drip from the desk onto the floor. Georgii Ivanovich stretched his arms, took from a box on the desk a few sheets of note paper, wiped his anus, threw them on the floor, and began to get up, holding with his hands his lowered pants. Fomin stood in the back holding in his own hands the warm excrements. Georgii Ivanovich put on his pants and absent-mindedly looked at Fomin.

– Well… that’s it… now what’s up with you…

He tucked in his shirt, clumsily jumped off the desk, took his blazer and, holding it under his armpits, picked up the receiver of the telephone, slightly splashed by his urine.

Listen, how could I call your vice deputy, what’s his name…

– Iakushev?

– Yes.

– 327.

– Georgii Ivanovich dialed.

– Its me. Well, comrade Iakushev, I must leave. Perhaps. Yes, yes. No no, I am with Vladimir Ivanovich. Yes, with him. Yes, it would be better in two, yes, immediately, right now, I’m on my way. Okay, yes, yes.

He put down the receiver,  put on his blazer, looked once again at Fomin and left, closing the door behind him. Yellow drops rapidly dripped from the edge of the desk into the puddle of urine which motionlessly sparkled on the polished wooden floor. The yellow puddle surrounded a notepad, a cigarette-holder, and one edge of the dummy.  The door opened, revealing in the crack the head of Konikova:

– Volodea, it was you whom he just visited? Why didn’t you call me, you ass?

– Fomin quickly turned his back to her, hiding the excrements in his hands.

– I am busy, you cannot enter now, you cannot…

– Wait a minute. Tell me what you both discussed? It’s stuffy in here, and there is this strange smell…

– You can’t come in, I am busy, I’m very busy – shouted Fomin with a red face, shrugging his shoulders.

– Alright, alright, I’ll go, only please don’t shout.

– Konikova vanished. Fomin looked at the closing door, then quickly bent and was about to put his hands under the desk, when he heard a loud automobile horn coming from outside. Fomin stood up and ran to the window. Next to the main entrance of the raikom building was parked a black “Chaika” limousine, and two black “Volgas.” Georgii Ivanovich was descending towards them on broad granite stairs surrounded by a group of raikom employees. Iakushev was telling him something, making lively gestures with his hands. Georgii Ivanovich nodded, smiling. The “Chaika” turned around, taxied smoothly and stopped in front of the stairs. Fomin watched, pressing his forehead hard to the cold window glass. His hands, which were still holding the excrement, slightly dispersed, and one of the brown sausages flopped and plopped on the toe of his shoe.

 

Translated by Octavian Esanu, 2007