Василий МИЩЕНКО, Людмила ШЕВЦОВА | Проза


Шевцова Мищенко


All the events of the story are based on the biography of the honored artist of Russia,

director Vasiliy Konstantinovich Mishchenko.

 The real names of heroes are kept in the story.

Moscow, 2016

The plane took off from Domodedovo International Airport to London Heathrow Airport. This was my first trip to England. The troupe of the Moscow Sovremennik Theatre, in which I worked for thirty years, first went on a short tour to London.

I looked out the window and saw the flying liners leaving a bright stripe on a perfectly blue sky behind them. And there was something symbolic in this loop. As if it connected the two moments of the past and the present. As a teenager, I dreamed of going to London. And I thought – my dream was somehow similar to the contrail with only one difference – it did not disappear completely in the sky but lived with me all the time, connecting the past and the future…

Maybe, my dream was reality itself. Or this was the soul of my existence.

I was born and raised in the small miner’s village of Sholokhovsky in the south of Russia. One would not immediately find it on the map. It was lost among the endless Don steppe, cut by the Siverskyi Donets and its tributaries. Here, on the Don land, the historic battle of the Russians with the Polovtsy took place, and it was sung by Boyan in «The Tale of Igor’s Campaign».

Small mounds, twisting beams with green islets, and countless springs surrounded our village. Just when I thought about my small motherland, as I saw feather bushes in front of me. With a light blow of wind, they glittered with silvery ripple. To this day, I felt the smell of steppe motley grass, the smoke of the campfire, on which we, the four inseparable friends – Roman, Sasha, Andrey and I – cooked crayfish, freshly caught in the river. I had never eaten anything tastier than that crayfish. This taste, these smells from my childhood could never be erased from memory.

Our parents cranked coal out day and night, fulfilling the increased socialist plans for the next Communist Party Congresses, for the celebration of the Great October Socialist Revolution, for the anniversaries of the leader of the world proletariat, for the International Workers’ Day…

And we – the youngsters – were brought up by the street. We spontaneously huddled together in gangs and rushed into adulthood. We picked up the thrown cigarette ends, smoking them in the alley, and boasted to each other out «exploits». Certainly, our «exploits» were filled more with boyish fantasy than reality. We instantly became tipsy from cheap port wine, secretly tasting adulthood, for what our parents, instead of a hangover, gave us the taws.

In my half-starved post-war childhood, there were no computers, mobile phones, game consoles, supermarkets, and Coca-Cola. We played leap-frog, lapta, and hockey. We could not afford real hockey sticks. We made them ourselves out of canes.

We went to the desert to play mock battles with real German Colt revolvers and submachine guns. The weapons in our region were in spades. These places were occupied by the Germans for three years of war.

In caves and barrows, we found warehouses with ammunition, dug out weapons in the woods. And the boys of our village hid from their parents real Colt revolvers, rifles, and cartridges in the hiding-places. Each picked that place himself, as far as their imagination allowed.

I was heavily-armed. I had two captured revolvers and a submachine gun. I was hiding this impressive arsenal in the barn, which was near my house.

For fun, we threw the found cartridges and grenades into the fire – whether it would explode or not. Once, there had been quite an explosion. I ended up in the hospital, bleeding, with shrapnel in my legs. I was more fortunate. Others – less. From such experiments, many boys not only became handicapped but also died.

This was the echo of the war. For many years, it spread around the Don steppes, maiming and killing the hapless boys.

I still had the scars from shrapnel – the memory of my carefree childhood. The scars were on our bodies, but the dream to conquer London – the city of our idols – was in our hearts…

Since that day, when we first heard the songs of the Beatles, we instantly matured. This music revolutionized in our minds. We wanted to understand: who were we?! Where and why did we live?! We wanted to sing like them, to look like them, and to live like them… In their songs, they claimed that only we ourselves could change our lives. And we believed them. We believed them unconditionally! And we tried to do that as much as we could…

Even then, in the age of fourteen, we knew that the Beatles would hardly ever come to the Soviet Union. Although, deep down, there was a hope that one day we would meet.

Our own government was protecting the youth of its country with fatherly concern from the «noxious» influence of the perverted western pseudo art represented by all sorts of «bees and dung-beetles». That’s how the Soviet propaganda called the Beatles, bringing down on our fragile minds and souls millions copies of newspapers and magazines with scathing critical articles. We should not be distracted from solving the «global public tasks and struggle against obscurantism and injustice that prevailed in the bourgeois world». And to «eradicate the epidemic of stupefying of our youth with the western spiritless art», the country developed an effective «vaccine» for vaccination of the younger generation represented by KGB, militia, Komsomol, and asylums, where very curious ones with the diagnosis of sluggish schizophrenia were placed. And the stronger the screws of prohibitions were tightened, the stronger our attraction to this music was. As well as to freedom.

Now, looking back at my past, I bitterly realized that this «youth policy» had broken the fate of many of my peers, completely undermining the faith in justice, for which we were so zealously encouraged to fight.

As a result, the ban on the music of the Beatles begot in our homeland speculators and swindlers of all sorts, who formed an underground syndicate for the sale and reproduction of gramophone records, cassettes, and CDs with recordings of the Beatles. They quickly arranged delivery of the forbidden music from the West, involving in their business sailors, journalists, diplomats, and everybody, who could go abroad, and making a mint of money on this.

We, the boys from the provinces, sat at nights near the old radios, trying to catch Voice of America, BBC, Free Europe to hear any news about our favorite band: who wrote new songs, which albums were recorded and were about to be released.

It was unlikely that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison, whom we already considered to be our close friends, knew that their music inspired us to learn English. We looked at the world map for the concert tours of the band, noting the cities of the UK, the USA, Europe, and Asia where they gave concerts. And at the same time, we learnt geography.

Certainly, the guys from Liverpool had no idea that somewhere, in the remote place of the former Soviet Union, in the unremarkable miner’s village, four teenagers fought till the first blood, defending the right to listen to their music, to sing their songs, to be as free they were, and dreamed of meeting them.

I accidentally stumbled upon one quatrain. Apparently, at that moment, these lines were in tune with my mood, and I memorized them.

I’d like to make a reservation. One table with a dreamy view.

A touch of sunset salutation. Espresso with the chocolate blue.

Anything else? What are your wishes? No, thanks, I won’t be needing much.

Maybe, except, the best of dishes The falling star’s delightful touch.

And suddenly the fate made a steep zigzag – «ordered» me a table facing London. However, it happened forty years later. I was alone, without my friends. But they were always with me. I took to London a photograph of Sasha, Roman, Andrey, and me, captured in the same mise en scene, as the famous band from Liverpool: with instruments at the concert hall of London.

We bought the photo of the popular band, cut out of a glossy foreign magazine, under-the-counter from the visiting huckster on the market.

I flew to London, looked into the illuminator, and made a pilgrimage to my childhood. In my mind, I heard my favourite song – «Yesterday». Why this one? Probably, that’s because I flew to meet my childhood dream. With every minute of the approximation of the liner to London, it gained real features, and I, for the first time in these forty years, felt an inexplicable excitement in anticipation of some miracle.  Although, I no longer believed in miracles.

I threw my chair back, closed my eyes and quietly, so as not to attract the attention of my colleague sitting next to me, began to hum a tune…

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,

Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.

Oh, I believe in yesterday.

…It seemed like only yesterday I was sitting at home in Sholokhovskiy, in my tiny room, and was rewriting the English words to the song «Please, Please, Me» from the worn-out record with the Russian letters. And I was memorizing aloud the text, rewritten in a school notebook with graph paper.

Love, love me do… You… know I love you…

Probably, in my performance, the text sounded funny, as I was speaking the South Russian dialect – a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian.

There was nobody in the house, except for the five-year-old sister Tanya. The father left for work early and came home late. The mother got up at six in the morning and went to the store to queue for bread. Then she came back, woke me up, wrote the queue number with an indelible ink on my palm, and also left for work. And I went to the store instead of her. I found my place in the queue by the number and waited till I reached the counter.

The indelible pencil, the number in the queue on the hand and the total deficit were the unchanged attributes of my childhood. I was standing in the queues for hours, under the scorching steppe sun, where I was learning the latest news from the life of our district. Certainly, this was not the news that cheerfully sounded on the radio every day. People discussed the latest news in the queue for bread in a whisper, looking around: about the riots of miners, the shooting of the demonstration of workers in nearby Novocherkassk.  My countrymen were shot just because they protested the increase in food prices and decline in wages. Only thirty years later, already working in the Moscow Theatre, I learnt the details of that terrible tragedy. The information about it was highly classified for many years.


But it would be later…


And meanwhile I, the fourteen-year-old boy, repeated the words of the song and waited for my mother. At this time, Roma, with messy hair and eyes bulging with excitement, appeared on the threshold of my room. In my childhood, there were no combination locks, no intercoms, no security in the hallways. Therefore, being out of breath, Roma freely flew into my room and pulled up his shirt. Under his shirt, there was a new real English record in a yellow envelope.

On the front side of the envelope, on the background of the group portrait of the band from Liverpool, there was the sprawling inscription: «The Beatles. HELP!» But on the reverse side, there was a collage of photographs from the life of the famous band.

This was the first time when I saw such a treasure and could not believe my eyes.

– Where… where did you get it? – I asked stammering.

– I stole it from Tolya. If Tolya finds out, he will tear my head off! I urgently need to copy it and put back! He is leaving in the evening. Now, he drove off into the district. To his beloved Nadya. To say goodbye before the voyage.

Tolya, the elder brother of Roma, served as a sailor on a merchant ship. He brought cheap foreign clothes from abroad, and their mother sold them to her friends. And the money from this was some kind of help for their family.

I reached my hand to the gramophone record, but Roma abruptly stopped me.

– Do not touch! Tolya brought it by the order of the customer… He had already paid him. Do you know how much it costs?! Tolya said that one could sell it for eighty rubles on the market.

At that time, it was a huge sum of money, at least for us.

– Let’s run to Andrey, he will make a copy! – Hurry up! There is no much time! – Roma was nervous. – We need to go for Sasha…

I could not miss a chance to listen to new songs of the Beatles. Especially with the real English gramophone record, which was a rarity in big cities, not to mention our village.

But how could I go? There was a little sister in the house, whom I should look after. And my mother had not yet returned with the queue number. The decision came with lightning speed.

I always made decisions immediately, without thinking. I still did not know whether it was disadvantage or advantage? They say that a good decision – the result of experience. And experience – the result of bad decisions. I was a teenager, and I had no experience. Therefore, bad decisions were often my companions.

I took my sister in and dragged her into the yard. The rope for drying clothes was stretched through our entire yard. I untied the rope and, without thinking of the consequences, tied her to the picket fence. In my childhood, nobody built fences, like fortresses, as it was now. Roma and I rushed to Sasha’s place. We knew where to find him. At the kiosk «Beer».

Through the entire village, with tinnitus, we rushed to the beer stall under the cheerful voice of the radio announcer, which came from the open windows of the houses and huts of the village:

«…our goal is to improve the quality of life and well-being of the Soviet people!»

The voice of the announcer mingled with the song of Yuri Vizbor. The melody came out the windows on the opposite side of the street…

Cities, emerging in heath,

Flowers, that rise in the wild,

Stars are the lives that we live

Looking at sons from the high…

The chanson performer probably could not imagine that already different stars were looking at the descendants, and they were rushing to the beer stall to have time to make the copy of the new album of the band from Liverpool. It was always like this: children did not understand their parents and believed that only they could change this world. I was the same. Only when I became a father myself, I was able to understand my parents.

It was summer. There was a huge queue at the stall. After the shift, the miners with black faces from the coal dust, which forever ingrained in their skin, moved up here to drink beer. Kindly scolding, they hurried the shop assistant Klavdiia, the mother of Sasha, to serve them faster. And those, who got their beer, stood in a tight circle at the one-legged round tables, cleaned vobla, wrapped in the greasy Pravda and Izvestia newspapers, leaving piles of husk on the table. They drank beer and with the loud approving laughter baited jokes about Karl Marx, Leonid Brezhnev, the international imperialism, the bright dawn of communism that could not ascend and illuminate the path to equality and fraternity, and the universal welfare of the workers, which had been just promised on the radio.

Sasha shifted from the stall to the table, brought the men beer, for which he received tips from the grateful workers. He collected the empty glasses and took them to the sink…

We ran up to Sasha with such a look as if a pack of wolves was chasing us. We grabbed him by the sleeve and dragged him to the side, away from the stall.

– Sasha, we need to talk right now! – Roma hissed with a voice parched from thirst. – But not here. Let’s go away from here. To the park!

– What? You are crazy. What park are you talking about?! Can’t you see this crowd?! My mother cannot cope with everything alone. She promised three rubles for help…

Roma grabbed Sasha be the hand and pressed it against his stomach.

– Do you feel what I have here, under my shirt?

– We are going to Andrey’s place now, – I impatiently explained to Sasha. – If you do not want to join us, then stay here!

I was never patient and shoot spoke plainly. And for this, I often got my fill of it and was an indispensable material for discussion of teachers council at the school.

– Sasha! Where are you?! Take the glasses! Fast! – His mother shouted at him, looking out from the stall.

Sasha instantly gathered empty glasses from the tables and ran to his mother. Shifting from foot to foot, he clutched his stomach and, writhing in pain, piteously groaned:

– Mom, I cannot take it anymore! I will be back in ten minutes…

– What?! Do you have an urge or something?! Come on! Run fast! And then be right back! Understood?!

Sasha rushed out of the stall at the rapid-fire pace, and three of us went to Andrey’s place…

Andrey differed from us with his reasonableness. He was an excellent student. He knew the English language well and, as the best student of the school, was set as an example to us – three hopeless blockheads.

Personally, I was not good at studying. I could easily make an «outstanding» record of academic achievement – to get twenty-two bad marks in a week. All of my classmates failed to beat this record. Looking at my grades, parents experienced the strongest shock, trying not to catch my teachers’ eyes. They were well aware that they were very unlucky to have a son like me. It was not just the fact that I was mischievous, and no one could predict, even I myself, which trick I would play at any minute, so even to them, I seemed to be a dense fellow, who was unable to deal with the school curriculum.

– You will work in a mine! – My father strictly dictated my life path. – If they will take you, of course. You will work a shift in a mine, crawling, beating off coal, and then, maybe, you will think about your education. As I understand, it is useless to beat you. You are already stupid. And I can inadvertently make you handicapped. You know, son, I have a heavy hand.

I experienced that more than once. And I immediately began to reduce the «record» indicators of my academic achievements, replacing bad marks with the good ones. I did not like exact sciences. And it was not because I was stupid and lazy. The whole thing was in my temper. My mother often said that my temper was similar to the steppe wind. It would come unexpectedly, whirl all around, and just instantly disappear. It was like the truth. I was always overwhelmed with some fantastic ideas. And I instantly wanted to implement them. To learn the rules and formulas was a boring task for me. On the lessons of mathematics and physics, I looked out the window and heard music and poems in my head. And I dreamed of… Oh my God! I visited so mane places for a forty-five-minute lesson. The teacher could not even imagine what fantastic processes were taking place in my head, breaking all the laws of resistance, which were so far from physics.

Andrey was different. He knew what he wanted from life – to become an engineer. He knew a lot about technology. At his home, he had a decent recording equipment, a brand new powerful radio. It caught the «hostile wave» and shared information with us. His father worked in the mine as a chief engineer, and his mother was a doctor in the local hospital. So, Andrey was the only one in our company from the family belonging to the elite of the village.

Roma, Sasha and I were the poorest of the poor. In autumn and winter, I wore kersey boots, baggy trousers, and padde jacket. This all-season outfit looked, frankly speaking, modest.

Roma lived in a small room in a hut. It was divided into two halves by a huge wardrobe, creating, thus, the place for the growing-up Roma.  The entire back side of the wardrobe, which served as a wall for his personal «apartment», was plastered with cuttings and photos of the Beatles. And he was proud of his collection, having spent all his money on it.  His father died during the accident at the mine, not having gotten a separate apartment. His mother brought up the sons alone on her small salary of a nurse. And Roma tried to look for jobs after school to have pocket money.

Sasha also was not different from us in the level of income. Besides him, there were three children in his family. He was the eldest one. Since he turned ten years old, Sasha to look for jobs, helping parents to feed a large family.

The fact that the members of the Beatles also came from poor families of the English province sort of united us. They gave us hope and boundless faith in ourselves.

The father of Andrey often went on business trips to Moscow and brought his son magazines with materials about the Beatles. In big cities, it was possible to get them. He shared his son’s passion for the «noxious» western music. He also liked it. We often stayed at Andrey’s home until late at night. He was above suspicion.

Sometimes, Andrey loved to make fun of our teachers in the classroom, who had no idea who the Beatles were. Once, on the lesson of astronomy, the teacher asked us a question: «What are the similarities between Mars and the Earth?» Andrey immediately volunteered to answer.

– Mars is the same round as the Earth. However, it is a bit smaller. Mars, like the Earth, has two hemispheres, the Southern and the Northern, – he was telling smartly. – And the other day, I read in some scientific magazine that four English astronomers John Lennon, George Harrison, and two more, whose names I do not remember exactly now, recently discovered a new planet, and it is very large. And they named it Cynthia. The English astronomers claim that the orbit of Cynthia began moving closer to the Earth. And in the near future, there could be a clash between them…

We literally rolled on the ground laughing. Andrey got «A» for his answer.

Our teacher of physics also taught astronomy and her idea about this subject was no bigger than ours. The story of Andrey about the «possible clash of the planets» did not arouse any suspicions. And she had never heard about these «astronomers». As well as the fact that John Lennon married Cynthia. Certainly, we did not approve his choice, and we were very upset for John. Especially Sasha. He was a handsome guy, the girls really liked him, and he soon realized his appeal. He boasted his success with girls, considered himself a great connoisseur of female beauty.

– Ah, – he sincerely sympathized John, – if only they would come to us, to Sholokhovsky. I would pick up really good girls for them! And what did he find in this Cynthia?! Ugly as sin…

The three of us came into the apartment of Andrey. Fortunately, he was at home.

– Andrey, we need to make a copy right now! – Roma pulled out his treasure from under his shirt.

– Wow! – Andrey whistled, not hiding his delight. – Where did you get it?!

– To be honest, I stole it from my brother. I pulled it out of the suitcase, while he was not at home. Although, he strictly forbade me to even touch it. At five in the evening, he is leaving, so I should put it back. And with not a single scratch!

Andrey carefully took the record, put it on the record-player, and we sat on the floor around it and froze in anticipation of a huge celebration. Music began to play… And we forgot about everything…


Not just anybody


You know I need someone


When I was younger,

so much younger than today.

I never needed anybody’s help in any way,

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured

Now I find I’ve changed my mind,

I’ve opened up the doors.

– What is he singing about? – I asked Andrey in a whisper.

– He feels bad. He asks for help:

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down.

And I do appreciate you being round.

Help me, get my feet back on the ground.

Won’t you please, please help me?

Andrey translated us the lyrics, and we listened the record for the third time. Firstly, we listened to the songs of the Beatles in good quality. Secondly, we literally perceived their cry for help…

– We need to go to England! Now! – I could no longer restrain my emotions and walked up to the map.

Andrey constantly pointed out on the map with the red little flags the movement of the Beatles. I looked up where England was and roughly estimated the distance to our village. Sholokhovsky, of course, was not shown on the map. But I found a solution. I estimated the distance from London to Rostov. I added another two hundred kilometres from Rostov to Sholokhovsky and firmly, with the look of a connoisseur, declared:

– We should go there by the sea. It will be closer this way.

– Where?! – Roma howled in bewilderment.

– Are you deaf or something?! To England! Cant’s you hear the guys asking for help?! We will get to England and help them. We will go for groceries. We will fry potatoes. They are asking for this, right?! You can hear it. They will not make it without us…

– Exactly! We must go! We will go to them, – not doubting, Sasha supported me. – After all, it is a pity. They are sort of orphans. Vasya is right. We must go. By the way, I am a good cook. We will not starve…

– Roma, are you with us or not?.. – I asked my unusually silent friend.

– And what do you think? Am I a redhead or something? Certainly, I am with you!

We burst out laughing. Roma really had red hair and freckled face.

– But I think that we need to prepare carefully, – Andrey reined in our enthusiasm. – We cannot simply show up there out of the blue. I propose another plan. Let’s first create a band. It will be exactly the same as the Beatles. We will test a little bit our repertoire here and go to England. In order not to come with empty hands. And so we will be also some sort of musicians. Maybe, we will perform together.

– We are not able to play the musical instruments! And we do not know English, – Sasha questioned this idea. – Moreover, we have no these instruments. What are we going to play?

– So what?! Big deal, English! We will learn it! And we can make those musical instruments ourselves, – Roma objected him…

The idea to create a band inspired me greatly. Frankly speaking, I did not understand how it could be implemented by people without any music education, any musical instruments, the knowledge of English, and money. But I immediately took it up.

– We need to talk to Lyutyy. He plays the guitar really good. He only hears the tune and then immediately begins to play it. And he will teach us some, – I suggested to the guys. – And we will play, like him, by ear. And then we will get sheet music.

Everybody agreed with me. After all, we knew some notes. We learnt it during the music lessons at school.

Lyutyy was perfect for the role of the teacher of music. He really played like God.

He was released from prison a year ago. He worked at the mine and played the guitar in the park in his spare time. He sang bawdy songs, and boys gathered around him in a crowd. He sent the youngsters to the store for port wine and cigarettes, allowed them to take a puff or two and strictly scolded the bullies of his «team». He taught the boys to play cards, showed them all sorts of tricks, and sometimes let them thrum a little his guitar.

Many boys in our village grew up without fathers and, of course, in need of the male guardianship. Lyutyy warmed them under his wing and was the unquestioned authority for them.

We sat at the Andrey’s house till the evening and did not notice how time flew.

We cleaned up all the supplies in the fridge, listened to and copied music… And we dreamed of…

Our imagination carried us on the waves of the utopia that the famous fiction authors, compared to us, were clearly not up to our level and had frankly to admit their lack of talent.

In our fantasies, we travelled around the world on the same limousine as the Beatles. We had an appointment with the Queen of England. We handed out autographs to the female fans crazed from our talent.

We already flew on our private plane, on board of which our names were written. We imagined the crowd of reporters following us to get interview. And, of course, we chose which one of us looked more like a certain musician of the Beatles. And here we were at odds…

– I will be Ringo Starr! – I categorically declared to my friends. – Andrey will be John Lennon.

The thing was that I liked Ringo Starr most. Although, there was nothing in common in our appearances. I liked that he was very artistic, starred in films, and was a cool drummer. And deep in my heart, I already wanted to become an actor and was sure that sooner or later I would become one.

– Why are you Ringo Starr?! – Sasha immediately protested. – By the way, I look more like him. Here, look! – He took a cutting with a photo of the Beatles and attached it to his face.

– Just exactly like an Englishman! – Roma teased him. – Dream about it! Who told you that?! Did you make that up yourself?

– Certainly, I look like him, – Sasha did not give up. – And I sing no worse than Vasya! Among other things, I was better at singing on the music lessons at school. Like Vasya is almost always the first in everything.

It was the truth. I really was a leader in our company, Andrey was a generator of ideas, Roma always got into some commercial adventures, but Sasha was a born womanizer.

– Okay, stop fighting! – Andrey brought everybody to reason. – Here’s the plan: create a band. First, we will go to Moscow. I have relatives there. We will stay there for some time. We will make some money. Moscow is not like our village. There are different opportunities. Then, we will go to England.

– Why do you need to go to Moscow at all?! – Roma objected. – We should go abroad! Tolya tells that there is plenty of food. It is even handed out for free. One can eat with no money. And there is plenty of clothes! Nobody does not even need money there. One can simply take everything… Tolya says that there is real communism there.

– Right! – I supported Roma. – Let’s go straight to England. I somehow like England more. Although, I also have not been to Moscow. I do not know how everything will go there, so it is better to go to London. Why should we waste our time?!

– Can you imagine how many girls will be crazy when we will come to England?! I will definitely marry the English girl! – Sasha was dreaming.

– Hold on! Like the English girl will feel like marrying you. What language will you be talking to her?! – I reined in Roma’s enthusiasm.

– I said that I would get married! Watch me! And no English girl will even look at you! You are crazy!

– Why won’t they even look at me?! Will they feel disdain or something?! Well, I am so fed up with your girls! Don’t be so proud of being handsome! – I got really angry and was about to punch Sasha…

– Stop it, guys! – Roma began to yell at us. – We are here, so to say, going to leave our fatherland, and you are trying to fight over the foreign girls!

Sasha and I wheezed a little and forgot about our grievances two minutes later.

We often quarreled but very quickly reconciled. Probably, that’s because throughout all the life we were connected by one cord – love, as it seemed to us, to the cosmic music of the Beatles and our desire to escape into the world space.

– So! – Andrey summed up. – I will make a detailed route on how to get to England. Most likely, we will have to secretly sneak onto a merchant ship. We need to gather all the necessary information: from what port and what ships go to London. And we need to earn some money for the first time there. We will not be able to go to England without money…

We began to discuss how we could make money for our journey abroad and have outlined several, as we would say today, business projects.

The first one was the most profitable – to catch crayfish, to cook and to sell to men at the beer stall. Sasha promised to talk to his mother for her to assist us in commerce. Then, we could earn money at the fruit and vegetable base – to make wooden crates for fruit and vegetables. There was another option – to work at the mining and concentration factory, sorting coal. I already got an idea to work at the brass band at funerals, where I played on the big drum with cymbals…

We decided to give Andrey the earned money, so that we would not be tempted to spend it.

– So, guys, – Andrey strictly warned us. – No one should know about our plans. Vitalik already constantly watches me, noses out why I study English intensively.

– He himself secretly listens to the Beatles, – Roma said. – I saw him buying cassettes from a huckster on the market. He saw me and then took off immediately.

In our school, Vitalik was the Secretary of the Komsomol organization, nosed out about those who was fond of the foreign soulless music, and, of course, reported where he was supposed to. We agreed to keep everything secret, and that was justified.

It was getting dark outside. I remembered about my sister tied to the fence and rushed back home. Roma looked at his watch and, having turned pale from terror, rushed out after me.

– I will have problems! Tolya has already left…

I rushed home. My mother was sitting at the TV and was watching the film «Zhuravushka» [TN: crane]. Thank God, Tanya was by her side and played with her rag dolls. I wanted to sneak quietly into my room, but…

– And what am I supposed do with you?! – My mother attacked me right at the threshold. – Why did you tie Tanya to the fence?! That’s good that our neighbour warned me and I quickly returned. Where the hell have you been?! You are lucky that your father is not at home. Otherwise, he would give you some hard time.

I silently listened with my head down. I had no excuse.

The mother looked at me, sighed and shook her head:

– You are no good at all, – she grieved. – Oh, no! Your father is right. After school, you will work at the mine. Go and have supper. I will not pity you anymore. Tomorrow, I will wake you up at six in the morning and you will go to queue. Understood?!

– Okay, mom, – I was glad that there was no scandal. – Tomorrow, you can wake me up even at five in the morning! I will get up myself…

– Oh, Vasya, Vasya! – She kept saying, setting the table. – And where did you get it from?! I cannot trust you at all. How will you live? I cannot figure that out.

– Do not worry, mom! You will be proud of me. – I did not know why I blurted that out.

– Oh, Vasya, will your father and I be so happy to live till that moment?! – She began to laugh.

Now, making the pilgrimage into my childhood, remembering my parents, I felt pain in my heart. Only as an adult I realized one truth: the pain of loss of people close to me would haunt me all my life. Indeed, as a teenager, I brought them a lot of troubles.

Unfortunately, they died long ago. And I had no one to put my head down on the knees and softly say: «Forgive me, mom!»

As a teenager I was desperate to get out of the house, and now I missed its warmth. And I would give much now to spend at least one day with them, to sit at the same table, to have a heart to heart talk…

As one of my favourite writers Andrew Sean Greer once said, «I carefully cut and placed in a fragile locket of my heart» my memories of parents. And now I opened that locket. And I remembered how one day all the family was sitting at the table and was discussing my future.

The father did not want to hear about my desire to become an artist.

– Listen to me, son, – the father said. – How can you be an artist? You have bad marks at school. Whom are you going to play? Idiots and crooks? So, your place has long been taken. Kramarov plays them all. Did you think about your mother and me? If you choose to became an artist, we will have to feed you all your life. And at the mine, you will become a man. This is a man’s job. Following this path, you will just waste money and will come back home with nothing. You are not our only child. Your sister is growing up. We also need to help her…

My parents lived a hard life. My father worked as a morning at the construction and my mother worked as a cleaner. They worked from morning till night, getting a small salary, to bring up us, three kids. They did not understand my passion for the theatre. I protested but in my heart I understood them.  They wanted a better life for their son. And in our village, one had to become a miner for this.

The generation of my parents had to experience so much suffering and sorrow that it was amazing how this could fit into one human life.

At the very beginning of the war, the Germans took my mother to Germany. My father, wounded at the front, was captured and sent to a concentration camp. And they met each other there. However, my mother was «luckier» than others. She did not get into the furnace of the concentration camp only because one German family took her as a housekeeper. That’s she survived. And after the war, my parents did not live but survived, having experienced hunger, devastation, and all the hardships of postwar life. My mother loved me and often took my side when my father scolded me, though there was a reason.

Life is an unpredictable thing. Not long ago, I visited Germany, the city where my parents met and where my birth was predetermined.

And now I had a meeting with the city of my dreams, which abruptly changed my whole life…

With reckless desire to change our lives, we began to create your band. We remade old seven-string guitars into six-string. We found skilled craftsmen, who helped to change the sounding boards on guitars. We constructed a drum kit out of two pioneer drums and aluminum lid from a huge pot, which we asked at the canteen. We found a bass guitar. Then we made the amplifier. And we were happy. That’s because our dream took on a real shape.

We had a little left to do: to find the place to rehearse and to learn how to play. Although, I could play a few chords on the guitar, had a good hearing and sense of rhythm, but it could hardly be called playing.

I decided to ask Lyutyy to teach me to play the guitar. I found him in the park. He sat on the bench and, as always, was crowded by the boys, aged ten to eleven. With boyish gusto and enthusiasm, dancing in a funny way, they listened to the rogue song of Lyutyy…

        …I’m not a rogue, yet words like prison

        Are so familiar to me…

        The place where I was raised and risen

        And where, alas, I’ll never be.

– What do you want? – Lyutyy interrupted the song, when he saw me.

– I came to listen to you, – I lied.

He grinned, spat through his lip and continued to sing:

        The cons were sad and grey like phantoms.

        We shared tobacco with some tea.

        They’d teach us words and slang at random

        They sometimes still occur to me.

– We need to talk, – I told Lyutyy when he finished singing. – Only privately.

We went aside.

– Can you help me?

– Help?! – Lyutyy got surprised.

– Can you teach me how to play the guitar? I would like to play like you. And one more thing. I want to you to listen to one song. Maybe, you can explain to me how to play it.

– Do you have any dough? Or do you think I will teach you for free?

– How much do you want?

– Three rubles. And that’s only because you are a minor.

– Can you make me some discount?

– I am done talking, – Lyutyy said firmly and went to the boys.

I had no choice but to agree. I had a small stash. I kept it lie an apple of my eye, wanted to sew myself a suit like the one of the Beatles…

We came to my house, and I put the tape with recordings of the English band on. By this time, we already had a decent collection. Having listened to one song, he pointedly said:

– Okay, shut it down. So, you are listening to the forbidden music, right? Aren’t you afraid that I can turn you in?

– No. – I was sure that Lyutyy would not do this, as he hated cops.

– Oh, how brave you are! – He grinned. – This is a soulful music… But not to my taste. The melody is simple… This is not Beethoven.

I was surprised by the talent of Lyutyy and his knowledge about Beethoven. Personally, I had no idea who Beethoven was. Although, I vaguely heard that name, when in junior high, we studied the biography of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The teacher told us that he loved the inhuman music. And this was Beethoven.

Lyutyy easily played the melody of the song. He showed the placement of fingers on the sounding board. I tried to repeat but I could not.

– Your hands are only good for chopping wood! That’s immediately evident that you are not of the elite. Look how you need to touch the strings. – Lyutyy showed me a master class. Along the way, he explained ho to touch the strings, – Gently, as if caressing a woman. – Understood? What’s your attitude to women?

I was confused because I had no attitude so far.

– I see! – Lyutyy began to laugh. – If you need help with this, you can ask me. The music is not in the strings but in the fingers… And here, in the soul! – He tapped himself on the chest. – So, when you are playing, it will make us chill…

I tried to repeat but I could not. And I felt no chill. On the contrary, I got covered with sweat, pressing on the strings with the force.

– Why do you make all that noise?! You need patience here. Until you rub sore your fingers to, you will not learn it. Understood? So, go ahead! Maybe, you will learn how to play if you have an interest.

Lyutyy took a pack of Belomor cigarettes from the chest pocket of his plaid shirt, and we began to smoke.

– Can you play any melody like this? – not without envy, I asked him.

– Easily! Mister, I have perfect hearing. Or did you think that I am some deadbeat?! – He said with dignity.

– I… I do not think anything! I just like the way you play.

– Sure! Oh, you a little boy. – He scornfully chuckled. – All the prisoners came together to listen to me playing. I taught many of them how to play. They respected me a lot. And I could get anything. Tobacco, vodka. And even women! Among other things, my grandfather was a professor at the conservatory. In Saint Petersburg. His last name was Lyutaev. And then he was arrested in 1937, and till 1958. And he was sent to Vorkuta to cut the trees. He died there. My grandmother with my five-year-old father were sent for settlement. – Lyutyy took a deep puff and coughed hysterically.

– And I thought you were called Lyutyy because you looked like an ataman. The one from the movie «The Elusive Avengers».

– No. That’s not my nickname. – Lyutyy began to laugh.

He was flattered by the comparison with the pretty famous actor, who played an ataman in this movie. This movie was shown in our House of Culture fifteen times. And I watched it all fifteen times.

– Don’t you have any relatives left? – I sympathetically asked Lyutyy.

– Maybe, there is somebody in Saint Petersburg, but I do not know. My father perished in the war. My mother died when I got caught… because of my stupidity! I stole a trophy watch at the flea market. I wanted to sell it. My mother’s heart was weak… She needed medicines. And we had no money for it. The guy turned to be a big boss. He gave me some really hard time. – Lyutyy put out the cigarette on the boots. – Okay, give me my three rubles. I am going to teach you. There’s no point in talking…

Lyutyy gave me a few lessons. I quickly grasped the technique of playing. I even tried to pick up a melody. He even complimented me. That’s how I learnt to play the guitar.

The guys and I began rehearsing in a tiny school radio shack.

The teacher of geography allowed us to rehearse in the evenings. But when there was nobody in the school. He wanted us to be off the streets and be busy, and he had every reason to do so.

The fact was that after the Khrushchev Thaw, an amnesty for prisoners was declared, and not only swindlers were released, but criminals of all sorts.

Former prisoners began to create criminal gangs in our village, with fights and stabbing. It was very easy for teenagers to get under their influence. Teenagers considered them heroes and wanted to be like them. I myself went through their school, as a boy of ten years old, until I became fascinated with the music of the Beatles. I would always be grateful to the Beatles for saving me from imprisonment.

The radio shack was so tiny that we, with our so-called musical instruments, sat literally at each other’s head. We switched the tape recorder on, played the records and picked up the songs.

The first song that we learnt was «Girl». Andrey’s father brought from Moscow our domestic record of the «Melody» company where all the hits of foreign music were gathered for the first time. And the song «Girl» miraculously was there. But, for obvious reasons, it was written on the record that the music and the words were folk, although the performers were named – the quartet «the Beatles».

We first performed this song at the school’s concert. We sang introductions in Russian and the chorus in English. The success was overwhelming. This was the first ensemble in our village. We were able to talk to each other a bit in the English language. To show off, of course.  Our classmates looked at us with undisguised interest, and there were personal sympathies.

For the first time in my life, I fell in love with my classmate. I still remembered that feeling of anxious tremor at our first date. I was preparing for it all day. I even wrote poems, as I wanted to show off my talent in front of my beloved. I spun before the mirror, adjusting my hair, and ironed my only dress shirt. And when we met, due to excitement, I could not really speak and forgot all the poems.

I remembered with gratitude my difficult childhood. There was a lot of good. Girls liked us not for branded clothes, wealthy parents, but for the fact that they were fascinated by us. And our feelings were very genuine.

After the success among our peers, our desire to become famous and to conquer the world tripled.

We rehearsed, overcoming all the difficulties, and there were quite a few of them. We cherished the hope to go to the concert of the Beatles, to meet them personally, and to get their autographs.

And our desire was understandable. One could talk about the Beatles, watch movies about them, listen to their music, sing their songs as much as possible, but to go to their concert, to see them live, to breathe the same air, to walk the same streets, to feel oneself a part of their world was a completely different feeling. And we needed these emotions. For us, it would be like a breath of fresh air in the stifling atmosphere of poverty, prohibitions, and outright propaganda lies.

We were secretly preparing for this trip and were working, where this was possible.

I worked in the brass band at funerals. In the mines, accidents frequently occurred, and miners died. Therefore, the funeral processions often took place in our village. At that time, the churches did not read the burial service over the dead, except for the elderly people. The miners were buried solemnly, with music. The brass band, which accompanied the dead on their last journey, consisted of five professional alkies. Funerals brought them to the drunken state. They smoothly moved from one funeral to another, so their work did not give them a chance to sober up.

In the orchestra, I was assigned to play the drum. In size, it was about my height. My task was simple. I had to beat with a mallet on the drum. I must admit that I was pretty good at playing the drums, so I was almost professional in the local orchestra. The rehearsals in our home-grown ensemble also helped me improve my skills of a playing the drums.

The first trumpet player, nicknamed Barmaley, led the brass band. This was a short man with the face of an alky, accrete thick black eyebrows, hooked nose, and moustache. If he did not have time to drink away the money that the relatives of the deceased gave him, then I could get five rubles for the work. But often he managed to do so. Then, I did not get anything.

This time, the young miner, who died under the rubble, was buried. The farewell to the deceased usually took place in the House of Culture.

After solemn and mournful words of the representatives of the Trade Union and party leaders of the mine: «we will not forget», «we will remember», «this is an irreparable loss»… the funeral procession moved to the cemetery. Along the way, the procession was joined by the children of the village. On this sad event, oddly enough, they were mostly interested in the orchestra. And the whole crowd of them was right behind us. We played, as always, the same thing – Frederic Chopin…

And then, on the very emotional moment of the procession, when the second theme sounded and the drum with plates increased the emphasis in the music at the same time… Sasha approached me, began to walk right next to me and shouted loud in my ear:

– Vasya, do you have money? I need some right now!

– Why do you need them? – I began the negotiations with him, missed the major blow, and did not get into the beat…

Barmaley looked back at me with amazement and showed a fist.

– The visiting huckster offered the new album of the Beatles! With the translation. He will wait only for twenty minutes.

At that time, there were the records of the Beatles with the application of the text in the Russian language. But one could get them only in big cities. And they did not reach our village.

– You see that I have no time right now. Only after the funeral. Barmaley promised to pay me five rubles.

– He will leave! He will not wait for so long! You know that somebody else will buy it, – Sasha groaned, not giving me the chance to follow the beat.

– And who will play instead of me?! How can I leave?! Barmaley will kill me.

– Look how many kids are following you. Ask someone to play the drums, – Sasha offered and immediately rushed to the side.

He brought the boy, aged ten.

– Do you know how to play the drum? – I asked the boy during a short break.

– No. In the summer camp, I once tried to play the small one…

– Perfect! – Sasha rejoiced.

– So! When the orchestra begins to play, you will beat the drum on the count of one and three! Understood?! – I instructed the boy. – I will get back quickly! Hold on! And most importantly – count!

We gave him the drum. It covered the boy up to his head… We also gave him the mallet and rushed to my house. I still remembered the terrified face of the boy.

– How well did you check him? – I asked Sasha on the run. – Won’t the huckster fool us? Where did you meet him?

– Of course, I checked him! I held the record in my hands. It is brand new, not yet fly sat. The fly was not sitting on it. He was at the beer stall. I brought him beer, and we somehow began to talk. He left me tips and then showed the record. He said that he had a meeting with the customer at the stall. And the customer was late, – out of breath, Sasha was telling the story. – So he promised me. He told me: «if you get the money, I will sell it to you». His bus is leaving in twenty minutes. He warned me that if his customer showed up before me, I would not get it.

We rushed into my home, I gave him the whole stash and ran back to the funeral. We agreed to meet in the evening at the Andrey’s place and to listen to the album.

When I returned to the procession, the boy was barely walking. He was so taken aback that he not only could not count, but could not speak. But Barmaley wiggled out. He played the funeral march without drums. Despite the fact that I came back and the orchestra finished the funeral procession with its full complement, Barmaley deprived me of payment for breach of discipline and kicked me out of the band.

In the evening, Roma and I came to Andrey. Sasha somehow delayed. I began to get nervous, sensing that something was wrong.

– I heard the Beatles would perform in Moscow. The guys in the park said so. Maybe, we should go to Moscow, – Roma suggested.

– They are lying! – Andrey questioned this news. – Voice of America would have long announced this.

With every passing day, the rumours about the tour of the Beatles in the USSR every day were enriched with more and more new details. They were passed from mouth to mouth, adding one’s own version. In fact, they had never been to the Soviet Union.

At this time, Sasha appeared in the doorway. He was terribly depressed and could not look us in the eye.

– The huckster fooled me… He sold me some bullshit, – Sasha murmured and held out the record in the bright packaging with the title in large letters: «BEATLES». Andrey put on the record. For a few seconds, the hissing and grinding sound came from the loudspeakers… And finally the room was filled with the sound of Lensky’s aria, performed by Leonid Sobinov…

I got speechless from the horror. I jumped up, grabbed Sasha by the lapels and began to shake him like a punching bag. I burst into tears.

– What did you buy, bastard! You said that you checked everything! I gave you all my money!

I brought Sasha down to the floor, continuing to shake him… Then, Roma and Andrey took us in different directions.

– Vasya, I swear, I will earn and give you everything back! I myself invested ten rubles. I took my whole stash, – being deceived and confounded, Sasha whined from the resentment.

That’s how I lost both the stash and the income. However, later on, Barmaley and I reconciled, and I returned to the orchestra.

Unfortunately, there were many swindlers, who traded fake records. They caught such guys, like we, in the provinces. And they had a tried and tested plan. First, they showed the real record, and then replaced it when the client was distracted or went for money, as in our case. Certainly, they left the real packaging not to immediately arouse suspicion among the buyers.

Now, remembering my childhood, I heard the voices of my friends, imagined their faces. We went through a lot together and never betrayed each other… In our time, the word «friendship» had an entirely different meaning than today. Nowadays, people had nothing personal, just mutually beneficial interests. And we, despite our tender age, knew the value of true friendship.

It was the summer evening. It was getting dark. I sat at home and tormented the guitar, trying to pick up a melody for my poems. My parents were not at home.

And suddenly Roma, pale as a ghost, rushed in. Back then, we had no cell phones. And the only connection in our childhood was the fast running.

– Vasya! Hurry up! The criminals beat Sasha! – Roma cried from the threshold.

With no hesitation, I ran to my hiding place in the barn, pulled out a gun, and we ran to the park. Hooligans surrounded Sasha and kicked him only for the fact that he grew long hair, like the guys of the Beatles. Hooligans were hunting for hairy dudes, and they could easily beat Sasha to death or stab with a knife.

I began to shoot into the air. The experience of playing mock battles, when we fired weapons at targets, came in handy. The angry crowd ran helter-skelter. We picked up Sasha and took him home. And the police was already waiting for me at my house, making a real ransacking…

To the horror of my parents, they found my stash of weapons in the barn. I was arrested and taken to the police station. The father with great difficulty persuaded the police to release me on bail because I was fighting for a just cause – I was defending my friend. It was hard to say for whom they felt sorry more – me or my father.

But I was sent home for correctional education.

On that day, I fully felt the heavy hand of my father. He kicked me out of the house, and I spent the whole night in the barn. And my mother, secretly from my father, brought me food and tried to persuade me to return home. But I lived in the barn for two days, held a grudge against my father until he himself came to me.  We talked heart to heart, and I forgot all my wrongs.

In my life, I met different people, but I was thankful to all of them: to those, who loved me and made me happy, and to those, who betrayed me. Due to their actions, they gave me a good lesson, and I got experience.

Now, on the plane, I thought that everyone had a personal «time machine». Today, my «machine» took me into the past. And this past was called «memory». It would never fade away. In my childhood, Roma, Sasha, Andrey and I also had our «time machine», only back then it took us into the future. And this was called «dream»…

It seemed like only yesterday we were teenagers and wanted to conquer London, and it had already been forty years since then. But I remembered that night, right to the smallest detail.

Forty years ago, in the evening, as always, we gathered at the Andrey’s place to clarify for last time the route and check if we had everything for the trip. We stocked up with food for the trip: bread, lard, and bought several cans of sprat in tomato sauce on the money earned.

It was a great snack «for three» in my half-starved childhood, as well as the main food of the Soviet students. We bought sprat not only because of its cheapness. Andrey carefully prepared for our trip and read in some magazine that the British liked our sprat. We consulted and decided to bring it as a gift for the Beatles. We could not go to London without a gift.

As it turned out later, Margaret Thatcher really bought our sprat in tomato sauce. However, she fed it to her cat…

We put the food into the duffel bag, stashed it in the hiding place in the barn for none of the adults suspected of our escape.

We planned our departure to England at six in the morning. At this time, the first bus went from our village to the railway station of Gracha. Then we decided to continue our journey by train and, thus, reach the nearest seaport, which was already in Odessa, Ukraine.

Merchant ships went from the port of Odessa to England.

We estimated that the distance from our village to London was five thousand kilometres. But how could the distance be the obstacle to the dream?! And we set sail with a small amount of money, without documents, and with sprat in the duffel bag towards the long-awaited meeting with our dream to England.

I barely slept that night. Frankly speaking, I was a bit scared of the unknown. But the overwhelming desire to escape from the third-rate village to the world space took over.

At five in the morning, I quietly got up, got dressed, and tiptoed out of the house. I hid my clothes under the bed the night before.

I took the duffel bag from the barn and went to the bus stop. We agreed to go to the bus stop one at a time, so as not to attract the attention of strangers.

I came first. Then, Andrey, Roma and Sasha came. At six sharp, the bus went along its route. There was nobody on that bus, except us. We sat in silence and looked out the window at the sleeping village. Outside the window, we saw streets, which were familiar to us by every bush, our park, where we gathered with boys, smoked secretly, argued and got engaged into wall-to-wall fist fighting. And now, the sign with the inscription «Sholokhovsky» was left behind…

We enjoyed our trip. After all, before the trip to London, we had never traveled further than the district town of Belaya Kalitva. And then there was a whole world before us.

On the trains, we got acquainted with new people who were generous with candid stories about their lives. Our companions fed us on the road, treated to cigarettes and port wine. We felt ourselves older and free. None of the police officers paid attention to us.

That’s how we got to Izmail – the port city in the Odessa region. We passed almost two thousand kilometres of the distance.

In Izmail, we wanted to catch a steamer and get to Odessa. In the port, we wanted to sneak into a merchant ship, to hide in the hold and, thus, to get to London.

We arrived at the port of Izmail. And we began to examine the situation. We suddenly drew the attention of the coast guard. Four teenagers, walking along the port, seemed suspicious to them. They called the police, and we were taken to the office for identification.

At first, we did not say why we were away from home, which caused suspicion. Then we confessed that we were going to England for the concert of the Beatles. And here everything began. We were put in a preliminary detention cell and were questioned for a long time, one at a time. The investigator could not believe that four teenagers gathered so easily to cross the border and travel to London for the concert of the Beatles to get their autographs. They thought that those, who stood behind us, specially developed the version of the trip to London to cover the young saboteurs. They initiated criminal case against us, as the traitors of the motherland. We were asked to tell the names of our ringleaders, passwords and safe houses. They interrogated us for a long period of time, trying to figure out how we actually got to the border town, what we did at the strategic object, which the river port of Izmail was. But we did not know anything about passwords, safe houses and ringleaders. Finally, the police officers realized that these four idiots knew nothing.

Exhausted by interrogations, we were sent home.

We, the traitors of the motherland, were taken to the village in style. In the paddy wagon, under guard. And our parents could take us home against countersignature.

And then there was the school assembly. We, like criminals, were put on public display and were stigmatized. Then, on the assembly, the Komsomol leader of the school Vitalik, who had long suspected us of the commitment to the soulless music and fascination with the English language, put his best foot forward. I still remembered every word his fiery speech:

– The communist party and our own government does not accidentally protect the Soviet youth from the corruption with the western art that is alien to our people. Here is a striking example! Who did our pupils become? The traitors of the motherland! Their rotten nature revealed in full. And there is no place for them in our school!

Although, we were not eliminated from the school and were given a chance to graduate because not all apparently shared the point of view of Vitalik. But, nevertheless, we got into the lists of KGB as unreliable citizens.

Sometimes, fate made paradoxical twists. Personally, this happened constantly in my life.

Now in school, where I studied, and in the municipal administration of the village, according to tradition, there were «honorary boards» at the most prominent places, containing the following inscription: «Famous natives of Sholokhovsky». And along with the names of several Heroes of the USSR and Russia, there was my portrait with the signature: «The Soviet and the Russian theatre and film actor, director, honored artist of Russia».

Vitalik still made a brilliant Komsomol career…

In the nineties, the Komsomol leaders, as we know, hurried up and massively privatized the enterprises in the country, including mines in our village, where the fathers of my friends worked hard and died. Later, these mines were closed. And thousands of miners lost their jobs. They were hungry and robbed. And the village was doomed to extinction.

The Komsomol leaders now lived in London, including Vitalik. The British called this area the Russian Rublyovka. And their children were taught the Russian language to serve our former ideological inspirers of youth.

After graduation, each of us followed his own way.  None of my friends betrayed the Motherland.

Andrey got enrolled in the Polytechnic Institute in Moscow. A year later, however, he was expelled from the Institute. In the dorm room, where he lived with three group-mates, in his nightstand, there was a book of our countryman Alexander Solzhenitsyn «The Gulag Archipelago», banned in the USSR. I thought that Vitalik was involved in that situation. Andrey returned to the village. Sasha went to work at the mine.  His father died there. And the son took the place of the father. Sasha had some hard time there. He had to raise his younger siblings…

Roma went into trade. And I, as I always dreamed, went to drama school. However, my father strongly resisted, but my mother told him: «Do not bother him. Let him go. Maybe, this is his destiny». I was grateful to my mother for this.

The parents gave me one hundred rubles for a living and the trip. They saved up for a few months, refusing themselves everything.  And as our proletarian classic Maxim Gorky wrote, I made my way in life with this capital.

But that’s another story…


The plane landed at London Heathrow Airport in the evening.

England greeted us with fabulous illumination. The famous Tower Bridge and Big Ben charmed by their majestic beauty.

The troupe of our theatre was placed in the hotel in the theatre district of Covent Garden. In this block, there were many London theatres, including Noël Coward, where the Moscow Sovremennik Theatre opened its tour with a performance of «Steep route» on the following day. In the play, I played the role of the investigator.

This was another paradox of my destiny. I did not have to make some research to create an image of the investigator. It was present in my childhood. And I remembered his voice, eyes, and the manner of interrogation. So, I was grateful to him, as he also left the trace in my life.

Sitting in my hotel room, I walked over to the window. I saw a vivid panorama of the theatre district of London. I could see the illuminated columns of the famous Royal Opera House. There were bright showcases of boutiques, cozy restaurants and bars filled with tourists. There were a lot of people. London had quite lively nightlife.

I watched the evening bustle of the city and caught myself having a strange feeling that all this was happening as if not with me…

There was almost the entire creative life of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, whom, as I thought, I looked like. Here, in London, the wrote their songs, and we – the boys from the miner’s village – tried to get them at any cost to plunge into the magic of their music. I was under the influence of this magic for forty years. In the difficult moments of life, I put on the disc with the records of the Beatles and, as forty years ago, listened to this music with the never-fading interest, and I felt better on the inside.

I looked at night London and hummed my favourite melody.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,

Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.

Oh, I believe in yesterday…

This happened against my will. And a lump came in my throat…

My tour schedule was very tight. The rehearsal was scheduled for the early morning. We had to learn the stage of the Theatre in London. In the evening, we already had to perform the show. It so happened that, unfortunately, I did not have much free time in London. Frankly, I did not have it at all.

After the show, the next morning, I had to return to Moscow. Firstly, I played only in one show of the tour repertoire of our Theatre.  Secondly, at the time of the tour, I interrupted the shooting of the film, where I played the lead role and I had to return to the film set immediately. I already had a ticket for the morning flight. But for so many years, I dreamed of plunging into the atmosphere of London, where every stone was saturated with the music of the Beatles, that I had to see the places where the famous band performed, to take photos there and to show London to my friends. We always stayed in touch with each other.

Before my trip to London, I called Sasha in Sholokhovsky, and he told me: «You are the only one of us, who was able to make our dream come true. Bow to this city». And I had to execute the order of my childhood friends.

In the morning, we began the rehearsal. The stage of Noël Coward was smaller than ours in the Moscow Sovremennik Theatre. We had to change the stage settings, to adjust to the stage, and it took too much time. I was nervous. My free time shrank like shagreen leather. The rehearsal lasted for two hours longer than usual. And here was the long-awaited break. I asked our interpreter to urgently order me a tax, as my English left something to be desired.

Certainly, my idea to go to the places of the Beatles was utopian and risky, as the escape from home to England when I was a child.

Moreover, only four hours remained before the start of the show. And I should be in the theatre at least one before it. No sane actor would rush to watch London alone, not knowing the city, without an interpreter and a guide, before the opening of such important tour. But I had no other choice, and I took a chance.

The translator ordered me a taxi, told me the number of the car and said that it would be served to the entrance to the theatre in five minutes.

I jumped out of the theatre, and literally a minute later the cab of black colour with the yellow sign «TAXI» stopped in front of the entrance. I thought that my fellow countrymen from the district of the Russian Rublyovka ordered only such cars. Probably, the interpreter said that the client was Russian, and I got the cab of the representative class.

I ran to the cab. The man of about forty years old was at the wheel. He was thin and blonde. With grey close-set eyes, he outwardly reminded me of the actor Hugh Laurie from «House MD».

I got into the taxi and immediately, with my inherent sensibility, literally brought down the flow of my wishes on the driver. And I hurried to tell everything at once.

– Mister, – I pointed at my watch and, with difficulty picking up the English words, mixed in with the Russian ones, loudly continued: – I have little time walks. Только… three o’clock. Понимаешь? Three o’clock, – I pointed at the theatre, – I dramatic artist. Через три часа у меня… spectacle. Ну как тебе объяснить?! Vening performance. Понимаешь? [TN: – Mister, – I pointed at my watch and, with difficulty picking up the English words, mixed in with the Russian ones, loudly continued. – I do not have much time. Only… three hours. Do you understand me? Three hours, – I pointed at the theatre, – I am an actor. In three hours, I will play… in the show. How can I explain this to you?! I will perform here. Do you understand me?]

The taxi driver looked at me with the imperturbable serenity.

– Вижу, ни хрена ты не понимаешь! [TN: I see that you do not understand a bloody thing!] – I told him with a smile, but actually I was very upset…

Taxi driver stared at me silently for a few seconds and, when he realized that I finally shut up, quietly, with dignity, asked me in Russian with a slight accent:

– Так куда вас отвезти, мистер артист? [TN: – So, where do you want me to take you, Mr. Artist?]

Oh my God! I was ready to kiss him. I rushed to him as to the next-of-kin.

– Так вы говорите по-русски? [TN: – So, you speak Russian, right?]

– И по-французски тоже, [TN: – And French too,] – the driver calmly replied. – Ваш импресарио заказал такси с русскоговорящим водителем. [TN: – Your impresario ordered a taxi with the English speaking driver.]

And then I got carried away like a mustang in the wild prairie. I used all my acting skills for him to figure out what I wanted.

– Понимаешь, друг, извини, [TN: – You know, my friend, I am sorry,] – I bit my tongue, – можно на «ты»? Я не знаю, как тут у вас в Англии принято… [TN: can I call you «friend»? I do not know if it is acceptable here, in the UK…]

– Можно, можно, [TN: Yes, you can,] – the driver agreed in the same calm manner.

And he began to examine me carefully. Perhaps, he thought that this Russian man was off his head.

– Меня Василием зовут, а тебя? [TN: – My name is Vasya. And what is your name?]

– Лукас. [TN: – Lucas.]

– Послушай, Лукас. Я уже говорил, что у меня слишком мало времени. Через три часа ты должен привезти меня обратно в театр. У меня сегодня спектакль. Ты сможешь провести со мной эти три часа? Я заплачу, сколько скажешь! [TN:– Hey, Lucas. I already said that I had no much time. In three hours, you have to bring me back to the theatre. I will perform in the show today. Can you spend those three hours with me? I will pay as much as you say!]

Lucas calmly said:

– Хорошо, мистер артист. Но это будет дорого. [TN: – Okay, Mr. Artist. But it will be expensive.]

– Да какой я мистер! Зови меня Василием. Я как-то не привык к вашему мистеру. А деньги – не вопрос… [TN: – I am not mister! You can call me Vasya. I did not get used to your «mister». And money is not an issue…]

– Странные вы люди. [TN: You are strange people.] – Lucas smiled. – Вы не первый русский, кто говорит, что деньги для вас не вопрос. У нас в Лондоне – деньги большой вопрос. У меня деньги тоже большой вопрос… [TN: – You are not the first Russian who says that money is not an issue. Here, in London, money is a big issue. And for me, money is also a big issue…]

– Ну, так переезжайте к нам, в Россию. Вопросы с деньгами отпадут сами собой. [TN: – Well, move to us, to Russia. The money issue will naturally disappear.]

Probably, this was a bad joke, and my sense of humour was not accepted in English, as Lucas just chuckled at my suggestion.

– Послушай, Лукас, покажи мне места, где жили и творили битлы. Это для меня очень важно. Понимаешь? [TN: – Lucas, show me the places where the Beatles lived and created their music. This very important for me. Do you understand?]

I could not stop talking from joy that I was so lucky to be with this driver.  I eagerly told Lucas how forty years ago my friends and I ran away from home to London to meet the famous band. We wanted to attend their concert, to meet them in person and to get their autographs. I reached into my bag for a photo where the four of us were captured on stage in imitation of the band from Liverpool.

Lucas took the photo. He was looking at the photo for a few seconds. Then, he looked at me. Apparently, he could not recognize me – grey-haired, fairly worn down by life man of the preretirement age – in an evil, dark-haired, grey-eyed teenager.

– Вот я, [TN: Here I am,] – I helped Lucas to find me in the photo.

Lucas smiled and returned me the photo without comments. I appreciated the English restraint.

– А что для вас значит эта музыка? Почему вы хотели убежать из дома? Это же неразумно, [TN: – What does this music mean to you? Why did you want to run away from home? It does not make any sense,] – he asked me.

– Как тебе сказать?! Музыка битлов изменила мою жизнь… Но это длинная история, Лукас… [TN: – How can I explain this to you?! The music of the Beatles changed my life… But it is a long story, Lucas…]

– Я вас не понимаю. Я тоже иногда слушаю музыку, но она не меняет мою жизнь. Она для удовольствия. А свою жизнь меняю я сам. [TN: – I do not understand you. I also sometimes listen to music, but it does not change my life. It is for pleasure. And I myself change my life.]

– Видишь ли, чтобы понять меня, нужно прожить мою жизнь. Оказаться в том времени, в той стране, в моем поселке, с моими друзьями… А это, к сожалению, невозможно! [TN: – You see, to understand me, noe needs to live my life. To be in that time, in that country, in my village, with my friends… And this is, unfortunately, impossible!] – I tried to explain this to Lucas.

And I realized that Lucas would never understand me. The gap between his life and mine was impassable. Probably, he thought that I was, at best, an elderly crank or a grey-haired idiot willing to pay a considerable sum of money for VIP taxi to gawk at the places, where the famous musicians once performed. But I was ready for this.

– Хорошо, Василий. Я хорошо знаю этот маршрут. Вы не волнуйтесь, я все вам покажу, [TN: But I was ready. – Okay, Vasya. I know this route, so do not worry. I will show you everything,] – Lucas promised.

It seemed to me that he was imbued with my desire to meet with my childhood dream.

We came to the famous Soho. Lucas told me that writers, artists and musicians gathered there. In the heart of Soho, I noticed a great number of advertising signboards and signs in Chinese. It turned out that mostly Chinese lived in this exotic area. I was struck by the huge number of bars, gay clubs, brothels, sex shops, restaurants, music venues…

Lucas parked the car, and we went on foot to the studio of the Beatles, where most of their famous songs were recorded, including the immortal hit «Yesterday». I looked at the building of the famous studio and remembered our tiny school radio shack, and our sprat, which we wanted to bring to London.

Lucas showed me the famous roof, on which the Beatles gave a concert. We came to the house of Paul McCartney, and I thought: if only Paul came out of his house now!

But he did not come out. Lucas said that Paul lived in America and rarely stayed here. I was photographed against the background of the house of the legendary musician.

Then we went to the concert halls where the Beatles performed.

The Royal Albert Hall was one of the most prestigious and oldest venues in the British capital. Here, at the Royal Albert Hall,

the Royal family attended the concert of the Beatles.

And I thought that every stone within these walls reminded of their music. They had absorbed the energy of the Beatles, and this would always attract fans of the famous band. This was like a prayerful church, after visiting which one would feel oneself enlightened.

I crossed the road at the famous «zebra» of the Beatles.

– По этому переходу, [TN: On this crossing,] – Lucas said, – каждый день курсируют многочисленные поклонники. Благодаря Beatles этот переход стал национальным культурным наследием. [TN: – there are many their fans every day. Thanks to the Beatles, this place has become a national cultural heritage.]

Unfortunately, time was running out, and I had to hurry up.

Lucas brought me to the famous shop of the Beatles, where I bought t-shirts, caps, mugs with a photo of the band, and many other souvenirs for my friends. Then, we drank coffee and talked about the phenomenon of the Beatles, and he gave me a ride to the theatre.

During these three hours, we got close. I agreed with Lucas for him to drive me tomorrow morning to the airport.

He was a very good storyteller, knew the city, and I wanted to continue my communication with him. Lucas willingly agreed.

– Василий, [TH: Vasya,] – he addressed to me when we pulled up to the theatre, – вы не могли бы оставить мне до завтра вашу фотографию? [TN: – could you leave me your photo till tomorrow?]

– Зачем? [TN: – What for?] – I even got a little confused.

– Я хочу рассказать вашу историю своему сыну. Я сделаю копию с вашей  фотографии и, если вы не против, оставлю ее себе. На память о нашей встрече, с вашим автографом. [TN: – I want to tell my son about our meeting. I will make a copy of your photo and, if you don’t mind, I will keep it in memory of our meeting, with your autograph.]

– Конечно, Лукас. Я с огромной радостью оставлю свой автограф. [TN: – Certainly, Lucas. I am very happy to leave you my autograph]. – I took the photo and handed it to Lucas.

– Спасибо. Меня очень тронула ваша история. Я никогда не был в России, но много слышал о ней. Вы, русские, живете и думаете сердцем. Это мне не очень понятно, но нравится. Мы живем и думаем головой. Я завтра верну ее вам. [TN: – Thank you. I was very touched by your story. I have never been to Russia, but I heard a lot about it. You, the Russians, live and think with your heart. That is not very clear to me, but I like this. We live and think with our head. Tomorrow, I will give it back to you.]

We said goodbye till nine in the morning.

…The show was brilliant. The spoiled, demanding English audience gave us a standing ovation. Could I imagine forty years ago that there would be the time and I, a simple boy from the miner’s village, would stand on the stage of the famous London Theatre, where the Oscar-winning world’s leading actors, like Helen Mirren, John Hart, and Vanessa Redgrave, performed?! Certainly, no. But it was due to the music of the Beatles that I was standing on this stage. It took me by the hand and led to my dream. And today, my dream came true…

In the morning, I walked out of the hotel at nine sharp. Lucas was already waiting for me. We greeted each other like good friends. On the way to the airport, he told me the story of his family.

– Моя бабушка была русской. [TN: My grandmother was Russian.] – The voice of Lucas trembled a little from excitement. – В 1924 году она со своим отцом, инженером-кораблестроителем, приехала в Англию из Питера. Ей было тогда семнадцать, может, чуть больше. Ее мама умерла во время вашей революции. В Лондоне она вышла замуж за моего дедушку, биржевого маклера. Он был много старше ее. Во время экономического кризиса, дедушка потерял свой бизнес. Остались огромные долги, и он не смог этого пережить… [TN: In 1924, her father, who was a ship constructor, and she came to England from Saint Petersburg. She was then seventeen, or maybe a little older. Her mother died during your revolution. In London, she married my grandfather, a stockbroker. He was much older than she. During the economic crisis, my grandfather lost his business. They had huge debts, and he was not able to get trough this…]

Lucas interrupted his story. And I did not dare to ask him anything. We rode in silence for a few minutes.

– Он застрелился в своем кабинете, – [TN: He shot himself in his office,] – Lucas continued. – Бабушка осталась одна с тремя сыновьями. Она учила меня русскому языку. Я единственный в нашей семье проявил к нему интерес. Даже мой отец не знает русского.  Когда я был маленьким, бабушка  читала мне русские сказки.  Она  очень меня любила. Перед смертью она отдала мне на хранение свою единственную фотографию, которую бережно хранила всю жизнь. [TN: – My grandmother was left alone with three sons. She taught me the Russian language. I am the only one in our family who has shown interest in it. Even my father does not know Russian. When I was a child, my grandmother used to read me Russian fairy tales. She loved me very much. Before her death, she gave me to keep her a photo that she treasured all her life.] – Lucas pulled out a yellowed envelope and handed to me. – Посмотрите… [TN: – Look…]

I took the envelope. There was a photo inside. A young beautiful woman in a dark gown was captured in a photo.  Next to her, there was a man with an intelligent face and beard. He was wearing a suit, light shirt and tie. A blonde girl in fancy dress sat on his lap. She was no older than five, or even less. The family, judging by the expensive clothes, the posture, the noble, I would say, enlightened faces, belonged to the aristocratic elite. In the photo, there was the date and the name of the photographer’s studio: «1914. Photographer’s studio of Carl Oswald Bulla on 54 Nevsky prospect»…

– Это родители моей бабушки. А это она, [TN: – These are the parents of my grandmother. And that is she,] – Lucas commented on the photo. – Я только после встречи с вами понял, почему она  отдала мне эту фотографию.  Она всю жизнь мечтала побывать  в России.  И, наверное, хотела, чтобы я осуществил ее мечту.  Я хочу так же, как вы, с этой фотографией побывать в городе своих предков. Походить по тем улицам, где они жили. Зайти в то фотоателье, где была сделана фотография семьи  моей бабушки. Я вчера только узнал, что оно и по сей день находится по этому адресу  на  Невском, 54.  Я очень вам благодарен, Василий. И хочу сделать вам подарок… [TN: Only after meeting you, I realized why she gave me this photo. She dreamed of going to Russia all her life. Probably, she wanted me to make her dream come true. I want, just like you on this photo, to visit the city of my ancestors, to walk along the streets where they lived, and to go to the photographer’s studio where this photo of the family of my grandmother was taken. Yesterday, I just found out that it was still located at this address on 54 Nevsky prospect. I am very grateful to you, Vasya. And I would like to make you a gift…]

Lucas gently put his family relic in the envelope. Then he pulled out the second one and handed it to me. With great trepidation, I pulled out from the envelope the photo that I gave him yesterday…

And there I saw the inscription in English:

          «Love is all you need! Ringo Starr»

I could not keep the excitement and could not speak…

I was holding a photograph, and it seemed to me that the reality stepped back. My hands trembled.

Lucas understood my condition, smiled and switched on the music.

And the famous song of the band from Liverpool began to sound in the car:

         All we need is love…

We parted with Lucas like friends. I invited him to Moscow and even promised to go with him to the motherland of his ancestors – Saint Petersburg.

Lucas told me that after we said goodbye, his car was serendipitously ordered by Ringo Starr. He did not come to London very often. He mostly lived in Monaco. Lucas knew the legendary drummer for many years. Yesterday evening, he drove him to the airport. Ringo Starr flew away to Monaco. On the way to the airport, Lucas told him my story and asked to sign the photo.

When we said goodbye, I thought that those, who were destined to meet, were somehow connected with the invisible thread. Despite the Time, Place and Circumstances. And all we need is love.


I know the hero of this story for a long period of time. I saw his performances in the theatre and watched his movies. We met accidentally at London Heathrow Airport. Although nothing in life happens by accident. As one poet said: there is no word «destiny» without the word «accident». And he is probably right…

We flew on the same flight to Moscow. I returned from London, where I was invited to the opening of the exhibition of my longtime girlfriend. She is an artist. And for many years now, she lives in England.

Vasiliy showed me a photo signed by Ringo Starr.

Listening to his story, I remembered the words of Victor Hugo: «Nothing contributes to the creation of future, as the wildest dreams. Utopia today is flesh and blood tomorrow».

Vasiliy dreams of making a film about his generation of the seventies: the naive, hopeless romantics, deceived by the Soviet ideology… and the music of the legendary band – the Beatles. It gave them inner freedom, became a part of them, and that changed their lives abruptly.

As it happened with the hero of this story.

About the author:

Vasilii Konstantinovich Mishenko is one of Russia’s most honored artists, who has served for thirty years in the Moscow Sovremennik theater. He has played hundreds of roles in theater and films, a popular and well-loved artist, he is constantly developing his creativity. He stages performances and produces feature films, along with his newest role. As a coauthor with Lyudmila Shevetskova, he will release his autobiographical narrative, called Just Yesterday. 

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