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Retribution
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

Here in the south, in afternoon in late summer the air is drenched in sunshine, and looks as heavy as though it is full of honey. And when a vehicle passes, the dust from its wheels hangs in the air as though suspended in the liquid and reluctant to come down to the ground again.

It was an afternoon in late summer when Alyosha’s tank came over the bulge of the little hill and clanked down the trail through the birch forest. Tanks and soldiers had already passed this way, and the air was still so hazy with dust that Alyosha had to squint through the driver’s hatch to see to steer.

"Keep your mouth closed, fishling," the bow machine gunner, Fyodor, said from his right. His large face was creased with dirt mixed in with his beard stubble, and he rubbed his jaw with a finger and held it up to demonstrate. "You don’t want that in your mouth. All the pretty girls will laugh at your teeth."

Alyosha flushed. They all kept making fun of him, because he was the new one, straight out of tank driver training, and they called him fishling. It wasn’t his fault that he was young and green and they were all veterans, or that he was the replacement for the former driver, who had been killed by a sniper bullet right through the front hatch.

That memory made him nervous, as though someone was drawing a bead through a sniper scope at the top of his chest, but there was nothing to be done about it. Besides, he told himself, the enemy had gone from this sector and there was no fighting left to do.

Yes, but suppose they had left behind a few men to delay the advance and fight to the last?

His thoughts were interrupted by the commander’s voice in the helmet headphones. "Driver, slow down. We turn off in fifty metres."

"Da, tovarish Starshina." Alyosha stamped on the clutch and yanked back on the gearshift as hard as he could. It amazed him as always how much strength it took to change gears on the T 34/85, and once again he wondered just why he’d been chosen for tank driver training when he was so small and thin. Once he’d asked and been told, leavened with plenty of profanity, that it was because he was so small and thin.

"It’s little fishes like you who can jump in easily through the driver’s hatch," Fyodor had said, rotating his shoulders, hefty with muscle. As though, Alyosha had thought sourly,he didn’t have to crawl in through the same hatch. And Sasha the gunner had added from behind and above, "Besides, you’re so small that if some sniper shoots at you through the hatch he’ll probably miss." And everyone had laughed except Alyosha himself and Tereshchenko, the senior sergeant tank commander.

"Turn off to the left," Tereshchenko called now, over the intercom. "Ten metres."

Alyosha pulled in the left steering tiller and jerked the tank into the turn. Through the open hatch he could see the village, a jumble of houses across a stretch of fields. Some people were watching them from outside the houses.

"Back before the war," Fyodor said conversationally, "you could have a good time in these villages. They knew how to live, no complexes on their backs like city people. And the girls after harvest time, they..."

Alyosha tuned him out, concentrating on driving the tank up the rutted trail to the village. The ruts were so deep that each time a track would hit one the entire tank tilted slightly, and the squad of soldiers riding on the rear deck swore and shouted abuse. Here, off the main track, the dust was less thick but still enough to make his eyes smart. He wished he had a pair of goggles.

They passed a line of ditches dug into the fields perpendicular to the track, and arrived at the village. Alyosha brought the vehicle to a juddering halt without waiting for the commander’s order. Leaning back in his narrow seat, he switched off the engine. The sudden silence was sweet.

A small knot of people was coming up the village lane towards the tank. They looked apprehensive, and were led by an old man with long grey moustaches.

"You’d think they’d be happy to see us," Fyodor grunted. "Instead just look at them!"

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Information
Genre:General Horror
Type:Short story
Rating:6.44 / 10
Rated By:11 users
Comments: 1 user
Total Hits:12536

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