They broke into beams. The weird grey snake crawled towards them. A glass dome. A long roaring sound. Blinding light. A ticket. A gate. Exploding voices. Curses falling heavily. More darkness. More light. Darkness. Moscow! Moscow.
The cart was loaded up to the church domes, to the stars in velvet. It clattered along, while the demonic voices of grey bodies cursed it and the man urging on the horse. A flock followed behind. The medical student's long whitish coat appeared now to one side, now to the other. But in the end we emerged from the tangle of wheels, and left the bearded faces behind. We rattled on over the potholed pavement. Pitch black. Where were we? What place was this? Never mind. What did it matter? Moscow was all black, black, black. Silent buildings stared tightly and coldly. A church loomed, looking confused and worried. It was swallowed up in the dark.
Two in the morning. Where can I spend the night? All those houses! What could be easier... Just knock at any door. Could you put me up for the night? I can just imagine it!
Voice of the medical student:
"Where're you going?"
"What do you mean?"
There are some good souls in this world. "The person who rents the next room is still away in the country, see. You could stay there for one night..."
"Oh, how kind of you. I'll find my friends tomorrow." Cheered up a bit after that. And it's funny, but as soon as I'd found somewhere to stay, I began to feel the effects of losing three nights' sleep.
Two bulbs fracture the shadows on a bridge. We plunge into darkness again. A street-lamp. A grey fence with a poster. Huge garish letters. Goodness, what's that word? Twanvlam. What on earth does it mean?
Twelfth Anniversary of Vladimir Mayakovsky.
The cart stopped. They took off some luggage. I stared at the word, entranced. A good word! And I, provincial wretch that I am, had sniggered in the mountains at the ASS head! What the blazes! But Moscow is not as black as its papooses. Sudden urge to imagine Vlam. Never seen him, but I know ... I know. He's about forty, very short and bald, wears glasses and is always dashing about. Short trousers turned up. Works in an office. Doesn't smoke. Has a large flat with portieres, now compulsorily shared with a lawyer, who is a lawyer no longer, but the commandant of a government building. Lives in a study with an unheated fireplace. Likes butter, comic verse and a tidy room. Favourite writer — Conan Doyle. Favourite opera — Eugene One-gin. Cooks himself rissoles on a primus-stove. Can't stand the lawyer-commandant, and dreams of getting him out some day, marrying and living happily ever after in five rooms.
The cart creaked, shuddered, moved on for a bit, then stopped again. Neither storm nor tempest could daunt the immortal citizen Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov. By a building, which seemed in the darkness and fear to have about fifteen storeys, the cartload grew perceptibly thinner. In the inky blackness a figure rushed from it into an entrance and whispered: "What about the butter, Dad? And the lard, Dad? And the flour, Dad?"
Dad stood in the darkness, muttering: "That's the lard, and the butter, and the wheat, and the rye..."
Then out of the pitch dark flashed Dad's thumb, which peeled off twenty banknotes for the drayman.
There will be other tempests. Raging tempests! And everyone may perish. But not Dad.
The cart turned into a huge platform which engulfed the medical student's sack and my travelling-bag. And we sat down, legs dangling, and rode off into the darkness.