A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow
by Roman Osminkin
Having set off for Moscow after a dinner with friends, our hero awakens outside of Kolpino due to the intolerable rocking. Seeing the windshield bespattered with vomit in front of him, with some effort he wakes up a bum sleeping in a cardboard box and asks him to wash his ride, but is turned down because of the late hour. Our hero if forced to give the bum money for vodka in order to continue his journey.
In Tosna our hero agrees to give a lift to a man with shifty eyes, who turns out to be a hustler, supplying counterfeit driver’s licenses and registrations for shady characters with cars of the same make. Saying he doesn’t feel well, the hero drops him off at the nearest gas station.
On the way from Tosna to Liuban’ the traveller sees a peasant standing on the side of the road with his pants down and displaying his ass to passing cars “with great care,” even though it is November and drizzling. The peasant tells him that six days a week his family sells pickled goods and jams on the roadside so as not to die of hunger, but since there still isn’t enough money, he is obliged to sell his ass on Sundays, even though it’s a sin. The hero reflects on the brutality of f…ots and simultaneously reproaches himself, because he too has a friend named Ch., who is in his power.
In Chudov his friend Ch. catches up with our hero and tells him why he had to leave Petersburg in a hurry. For the sake of diversion, Ch. decided to ride his scooter from Kronstadt to Sestroretsk. On the road, two meatheads in Hummers decided to have some fun with him and squeezed his scooter between their cars. Fortunately, there was a Highway Patrol station just a verst and a half away. The Hummers abandoned their victim-plaything and sped away, while Ch., pale and scratched up, made straight for the traffic cop. The latter, however, had chosen that moment to sleep, and the sergeant, his underling, did not dare wake him. When, through his own efforts, Ch. managed to wake the officer up, the latter said: “It’s not my responsibility.” Unable to find any sympathy for what had happened from the policemen of Petersburg, he decided to quit the city forever.
On the road from Chudov to Spasskaia Polest’ our hero picks up a man with honest eyes, who tells him his sad story. Having trusted his business partner in the purchase of some real estate, he was deceived, deprived of his entire fortune and brought before a criminal court. His wife, upset by what had happened, went into early labor and died three days later, along with her premature child. Seeing that he was about to be taken into custody, his friends lowered him down from the window with sheets and told him to run “where his legs would carry him.” Our hero is touched by his travel companion’s story, and he wonders how to bring the case to the attention of the highest court, “for only that court is impartial.” Realizing that he is powerless to help the poor man, the hero imagines himself to be a supreme leader with a seemingly flourishing government, and everyone singing his praises. But then an underage girl fellating a long-haul trucker by the side of the road lifts the veil from the leader’s eyes, and he sees that his reign is unjust, that his benevolence was wasted on the rich, on flatterers, traitors, and the unworthy. He realizes that power is an obligation to safeguard the law and justice. But all of this turns out to be only a dream.
At the Podberezye station our hero meets a graduate student, who complains about the quality of contemporary education, which aims to satisfy market demand with the mass production of narrowly trained specialists. Genuine scholarship has been replaced with servile scholarship, and instead of critical thinking students master careerist cunning. The hero reflects on science and scholarly work, the goal of which he sees as making a host of discoveries, bringing glory to himself and his country.
Having arrived at Novgorod, our hero recalls that in the old days the city was ruled by the people, and questions Putin’s right to appoint his own viceroys to Novgorod. “But what avails right, when might prevails?” – he asks. Taking a break from his reflections, the hero goes to dine at his pal Karp’s, formerly a racketeerworking the market, now a local lawmaker. They launch into a conversation on trade matters, and the traveler realizes that the recently instituted anti-trust laws do not ensure honesty, but on the contrary, facilitate easy money-making and theft.
Аt the Zaitsev post office our hero meets an old friend, Mr. Krestiankin, who used to serve in the department of criminal investigation. When an anti-extremism center was established based on the bureau for criminal investigation, he was forced to retire, since it was clear that he would be of no use to his fatherland at the new center. He saw only cruelty, corruption, and injustice, when the opposite was needed. Krestiankin recounted a story about a cruel police boss, whose son raped a young woman from the provinces. Defending his bride, the girl’s fiancé cracked the rapist’s skull. The groom had several friends with him too, and, according to the criminal code, the storyteller was supposed to give all of them huge prison sentences. He tried to acquit the young men, but the rapist’s father put the heat on the court and they all went to prison.
Passing by a cemetery in Yazhelbitsy, our hero sees a funeral in progress. The father of the deceased sobs by the grave, saying that he is his son’s murderer, for he “poured HIV into him at conception.” The hero feels that he is listening to his own condemnation. Having indulged in promiscuity in his youth, he contracted chronic hepatitis and now fears that he will pass it on to his children. Reflecting on who is responsible for the spread of AIDS, the traveler blames the government, which doesn’t help the infected and doesn’t have drug use prevention programs.
In Edrovo our hero meets a young peasant woman named Aniuta; he speaks with her about her family and ex-fiancé, who came back from the army an invalid. In order to help him, she married a rich man, who does whatever he pleases with her, and she doesn’t dare defy him, because otherwise there will be no money for the surgery. Our hero is amazed at how much nobility there is in the peasant woman’s way of thinking. He condemns the government, which doesn’t look after its own sons, and reflects on modern marriage, which forces eighteen-year-old girls to become the property of businessmen with deep pockets. Equality—that is the foundation of family life, he thinks.
On the road to Khotlivo, our hero is visited by thoughts about the injustice of exploiting guest-workers’ labor. The fact that one man can enslave another, he calls a “beastly habit”: “slavery is a crime,” he says. Only he who works the land or builds houses, has a right to them. And no government with several million citizens who are deprived of that title can “call itself blessed.”
In Torzhk our hero meets a person, off to Moscow with a letter about allowing an independent Internet portal to function again, free from censorship. They discuss the intransitive properties of television and the ill effects of censorship, which “is just like a nanny leading an infant by the apron strings,” and that “infant”—that is, the spectator—never learns to walk (think) independently. Society should provide its own censorship, either acknowledging information’s right to life, or rejecting it.
In the village of Gorodnya army conscriptions are taking place, which is the reason behind the weeping among the thronging crowd. Mothers, sisters, brides are crying, seeing off their awkward and sickly youth. But not everyone is dissatisfied with his fate. Some of the young men, the healthiest, smirk insolently behind lowered BMW windows. The army is no threat to them. Others, with the rabid gaze of gopniki, are happy enough to escape their problems with the law and the boredom of village life.
In Peshki our hero contemplates an ordinary residential house and is amazed by the poverty that reigns here. A housewife asks him for a packet of Rollton instant soup to feed her child. In a lyric digression, the author addresses himself to a passing official with a condemning speech: “Hard-hearted official! Look at the children of the residents that you are responsible for. They are practically naked.” He promises him death by helicopter during a hunt, as it is clear that there will be no justice on earth.
The Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow ends with Luzhkov’s book, TransCapitalism in Russia. Our hero alludes to the fact that this book was given to him by someone from Lomonosov University, with whom he had lunch in Tver. In his book Luzhkov focuses mainly on the topic of the worldwide crisis. The author sets himself a bold task: to determine where the origins of the crisis lie, and to find the path by which Russia can escape from it with minimal losses. Amid tormented thoughts about the search for that path for Russia, our hero enters the nation’s first capital.