by Michael Priv
          “Damned Hungarians!” Alik barked, enraged, “Kill them! Come on, let’s do it! Which way is the frigging Hungary from here?”
          “Yeah, let’s just go kill the bastards,” Grisha chimed in amicably, filling up the glasses in front of us with cheap vodka. “Let’s hijack a plane to Budapest and… Hey, can anybody fly a plane? Misha, can you fly a plane?”
          I kept silent.
          Bobzik was skeptical, “Yeah… well… let’s just see if we can find a Hungarian here in Kiev some place and smack him around a little or something. Why go all the way to Hungary? You know how difficult it is to get a visa or hijack a plane? Very difficult. And expensive!” Bobzik has always been the most sensible among us, even when drunk as a skunk—a seriously overweight skunk.
          I just stayed out of it. Under different circumstances I could have considered this exchange amusing. Not now. Kesha was killed. He was dead. He was only eighteen. He was never coming back. His military radio truck was blown up in Budapest by some local hero, killing all four crew members. A young Lieutenant, his face covered in acne, brought Kesha back home all welded up in a steel coffin. He looked pitiful, this Lieutenant, on the verge of crying, struggling to explain what happened, his Adam’s apple jumping up and down inside his scrawny throat.
          We were just done burying Kesha in his coffin draped with the red Soviet flag—in 1977 they still used to take these things seriously. If those bustards over in Hungary didn’t want Soviet army in their miserable little country, fine! Leave them alone! Who cares!? But why did they have to go kill Kesha? What has he ever done to them? He was the best of us all, Kesha was, he was more kind than any of us. A truly good guy, not a gutless schmuck like me.
          I caught Alik glancing at me. Was that hate in his eyes? Bobzik and Grisha avoided looking at me altogether.
Kesha was good, I was bad. Capricious. Irresponsible. Insincere. Dishonest. Well, see for yourself, here is what happened.
          A few months ago, must have been in March of 1977, we were seeing Kesha off for his military service. Conscription, you know. Russians usually throw huge farewell parties for such occasions with lots and lots of vodka, pickled cucumbers and cabbage, herring and boiled potatoes, sausage. Kesha’s party was no exception. There must have been some eighty people there, lots of drinking, toasts, best wishes, singing and dancing.
          After the party, the five of us drunks went outside to take a walk together for the last time. I dimly remember us walking in the middle of a busy street holding hands and stopping all the traffic while singing Bolshevik fighting songs. Cops were tolerant in such cases. Getting drunk at a friend’s military farewell party was considered to be a sacred right of every Soviet citizen.
          Misbehaving mildly that way, we stopped in a small park nearby to relax and have a smoke. Alik asked Kesha if Zinka was going to wait for him for two years. Kesha finally found himself a girlfriend, Zinka, they’ve been seen together for about three months by then. We were all happy that Kesha found a nice girl, he was always so bashful. It was right then, right that instant that my entire downfall started.
          Kesha laughed, explaining that they were just pretending. Apparently, Zinka chose Kesha for his honorable disposition and sizeable biceps to pretend that he was her boyfriend to protect her from some overzealous admirer. We all knew Kesha. The idiot would never take advantage of the situation. Of course, they never had sex. A crying shame, if you ask me.
          We all stared at Kesha, the realization worming its way slowly through the fog in our heads.
          “So you are still a virgin, then?” I finally asked.
          Kesha smiled, “That’s the way it is, man. I guess I’ll just catch up with you guys later.”
          “No way!” Alik jumped to his feet. “Never! We will not let you go who knows where like that! You lazy bum! You are getting laid right now, man!”
          Kesha asked in his most reasonable tone of voice, “But what can we do now, after midnight? The bus is leaving in six hours. No big deal, guys, I’ll survive.”
          Of course, our decision has been made already and it was unanimous. We were going to get Kesha a roll in the hay RIGHT THEN and that was final! We assessed our resources. It was a rather quick assessment as we only had one resource—Toma—Alik’s girlfriend. He was the only one among us with a girlfriend at the moment. We had to convince Toma to have sex with Kesha that night. When I told Alik he tried to hit me but fell off his perch swinging.
          Allow me to explain something here. Communists robbed us of all kinds of values but one value stood tall and proud through time and travails, getting ever stronger, becoming a towering giant in the country of dwarfs. And that was FRIENDSHIP. In that culture you owe your full support to your friends. You risk your life and well-being for your friends, you do anything needed to help them. It is very simple, really. The only difficult part for foreigners to grasp is the definition of the word “friend” as opposed to a mere “acquaintance”. A friend is simply somebody you would risk your life for and who would do the same for you. Oh, yeah, one more thing: a friend of your friend is usually regarded as your friend.
          Bobzik helped Alik up and walked him away from us, talking softly and soothingly. Alik’s head jerked nervously now and then but Bobzik kept at it calmly. They came back in a minute with Alik glum but fully tamed. What else could we do? Nothing.
          Alik cleared his throat, “Khm-hm. Kesha, I am going to try to get Toma. I want you to make love to her tonight if she lets you, you hear? It is my present.” 
          Kesha was scared. Realize, there must be a good reason for a guy to hold on to something as reprehensible as virginity at the ripe age of eighteen. He was just a little crazy in that department. So of course it took some serious convincing, but we finally dragged his reluctant ass to Toma’s house.
          She lived in a high-rise apartment building, just like mine, just like many others. Of course somebody puked outside and pissed in the lobby, of course the elevator did not work, of course most of the light bulbs on the stair landings were busted or stolen. Socialism sucks.
          Anyway, we marched to Toma’s door on the eighth floor and stood aside while Alik boldly rang the door bell. Toma finally opened the door wrapped in an XL T-shirt, that barely reached beyond you know where, all warm and fuzzy from sleep. My heart stopped. I had a crash on Toma on and off, mostly on, since the 3rd grade. Alik stepped inside, the door closed softly behind him. We all waited in the darkness. The door suddenly opened with a bang and Alik flew out head first, hitting the opposite wall at cruise speed. He slid down sideways and silently tumbled down the stairs to the landing below. Ignoring us, Toma’s father in his oversized grungy underwear shlepped barefoot to the edge of the landing to see how far down Alik rolled, my best guess. With a satisfied grunt, the brute went back in, scratching his hairy stomach and yawning.
          We slapped Alik a bit and got a sketchy rundown on his most recent adventure. It sounded to me, essentially, that Alik failed to convince Toma to have sex with Kesha. She proceeded to call upon her unquestioning and oblivious father to throw Alik out. Such brutality! Such disrespect! Outrageous! How dare her treating us that way! War! Victory or death!
We briskly positioned still blabbering Alik vertically in front of Toma’s door, slapped him around a bit more to get him to focus, rang the doorbell and shoved him into the savory warmth of Toma’s apartment as soon as the door opened.      
          It worked this time. Kesha was Toma’s friend too. Of course it was Alik who put her in such a position but that did not change the facts of the matter. A few minutes later haphazardly clad Toma stormed out of her apartment angrily with Alik—still dizzy from his recent encounter with the brick wall—stumbling in her wake.
          Not looking at us, Toma scuttled down the stairs. We all followed solemnly, gripping Kesha’s shirt to prevent any escape attempts.
           Alik went ahead of us to talk to Toma. A resonant face slap confirmed the obvious—Toma did not want to talk to him right that very second. She waited for us to catch up and muttered, eyes glaring in the light of a cheap light bulb a flight above, “To the Mattress.”
          There was a locked storage room in the basement, totally dark, with a mattress on the floor. That room was called appropriately the “Mattress.” We had the key. Many of the neighborhood girls lost their virginity on that mattress. Of course there was nobody there at 2AM.
          Toma smoothed out her angry face somewhat, forced a crooked smile and told Kesha to give her a minute and then just come on over. He was so bashful that she actually came to him and kissed him on the cheek just to make him feel better. Kesha turned bright red and hiccupped. Toma rolled her eyes and walked alone to the basement.
          We went out of the building. “Oh, guys, what do I do now?” Kesha exclaimed pathetically, “Damn you, I’m just not ready! I’ll bring her some flowers, that’s right! It’ll be better that way! I saw a garden with some flowers, I’ll be right back!”  And he ran away, that fool!
          We all sat around smoking, I was thinking about homey and sleepy Toma in her T-shirt. I jumped to my feet. Could a guy get a cold shower around here? A plan suddenly congealed in my mind, while I was prowling around restlessly.  
          I snuck into the building behind my friends’ backs, went to the basement, found the mattress in complete pitch darkness. I felt Toma’s hand on mine as I was groping around.
          “Come here, Kesha,” she said gently, “Are you nervous? It’s okay, here, let me help you... Oh, look at that, you don’t need any help! That's a good boy. Here let me...”
          I mumbled something unintelligible while she unzipped my pants and pulled them down.
          I thought in a blaze of instantaneous righteousness that this was all wrong. One must NEVER do such things to friends! I immediately lost that short but intense battle with myself as I was already positioning Toma’s slender body gently but firmly under mine, penetrating with a gasp and setting a neck-breaking tempo. Wow, what a wonderful quickie that was! I savored every instant of Toma’s breath-taking orgasm and then had one myself. She kissed me tenderly on the lips and whispered, breathless, “Thank you, Kesha, I liked that very much. Good luck to you in the Army!”
          I grunted something agreeable, pulled up my pants and ran out feeling totally satisfied. Bobzik, Grisha and Alik were sitting around smoking. Kesha was still missing in action. I slumped on a curb, miserable and still out of breath. I was such a scumbag! But boy, did I have a great lay just now! WOW!
          Kesha suddenly showed up all huffing and puffing with a huge messy bouquet of some kind of flowers.
          The guys surrounded him excitedly, like a flock of overgrown sparrows, with last-minute advises when the building entrance door opened and markedly mellowed Toma came out, radiating a warm glow. She walked straight to stunned Kesha, smiled, kissed him on the cheek, caressed his crotch affectionately through the cloth of his jeans, wished him good luck at the Army, took the flowers from his weakened hand and walked away swaying sensuously.
          “What the hell was that?” Kesha asked stupidly, directing his question to no one in particular.
          Alik took it personally. “Probably changed her mind again, damn woman! I’ll go get her back! Hey, Toma, wait!” Alik yelled very bravely but not very loudly.
          I couldn’t stand it. “No, don’t yell,” I said miserably, “I know what happened!” I explained briefly. Alik hit me on the face, hard. I fell down protecting my head, glood gushing from my nose. Alik kicked me several times. Others dragged him away. The others were not able to convince Kesha to give it another try.
          “Some other time,” he said. Some other time. We just buried him. There would never be another time.
          That happened over forty years ago. We sometimes meet on Kesha’s birthday. We fill a glass of vodka for Kesha and remember things, it is a ritual we have.
          To your health, Kesha! Za tvoye zdorovie! Wherever you are now, I want you to know one thing, man, I AM SORRY!    
                                                                                                                                                                                    © 2011 Michael Priv. All Rights Reserved.