The ladder creaked and little clouds of dust followed behind the boy as he climbed down through the trap.
"What are you doing up there, Sacha?"
He stopped and turned to see his grandfather standing at the foot of the ladder. Michail Ivanov reached up with a wrinkled old hand and took a firm grip.
"You should be careful. Everything is old and falling apart in this house."
The boy continued his descent carrying a box in one hand, holding the rangs of the ladder with the other. Michail watched, he smiled to himself, knowing no matter what he said his grandson would likely not listen. Sacha was in many ways similar to him, full of the spirit of adventure, carefree, and imbued with a desire to discover.
"I found it!" Sacha held up the box as he stood at the bottom of the rickety old ladder.
His grandfather looked at him and smiled, then looked back up to the trap. "You forgot to shut the trap."
Sacha laughed. "I've only one pair of hands!"
"I'll give you 'one pair of hands,' you rascal."
Michail slapped the boy's behind as he clambered back up the ladder to close the trap. It made a loud thud amidst a halo of dust as it dropped shut.
"Yuck," Sacha wiped his face with his arm as he arrived back down on the landing.
"I don't know why you wanted to go searching for it. I told you no one's been up there in donkeys years and it's full of cobwebs and spiders."
The boy looked at him as he picked the box up off the floor. "For this," he said, triumphantly.
His grandfather nodded wearily as if conceding defeat.
"You said the box was somewhere in the attic."
"I said that so you would not press an old man to continue telling you stories."
"But granddad, you tell such good stories."
Michail grinned and threw an arm over his grandson's shoulder.
"Come on then, we better go downstairs and get comfortable."
The old man and the child walked across the bare floorboards and descended the staircase. Sacha holding tightly to the treasure he had unearthed amongst all the years accumulated junk spread around the dark and dusty attic.
Roschino is a tiny village on the banks of the River Suda, lost in the countryside some eighty kilometers north of the capital. The house was unusual in having two stories, otherwise it resembled the few other houses scattered about. A wooden construction with a covered veranda it stood on it's own surrounded by a vegetable garden and looking out across the greenery towards the river. Every house had its own vegetable patch, there were no shops nearby. Everyone here was somewhat self-sufficient, or else you brought your supplies with you. But Granddad Michail lived here all year round and he had Annika to tend his vegetables, and look after him.
At night the only sounds were those which emminated from the nature which surrounded them. Sacha adored curling up next to Michail on the old sofa in front of the little wood burner. They would often pass their evenings together like that, the youngster engrossed in the tales his granddad told.
Sacha pulled the little metal object from the box and held it out in the palm of his hand. Michail stared at the object dull with the passage of time. His mind roamed as memories resurged. The summer of nineteen seventy-two, he had just turned fourteen. It was a chance to be born in June, it meant he would spend a summer of adventure, his first time away from his family.
"Ah!" he sighed. "That... You recognise the figure, don't you?"
Sacha recognised the head on the red and gold medal.
"We all received that little pin at the end of the summer. It was the year I went away to summer camp with the Komsomol. Ah! I had the chance to have reached the age to join."
"What is the Komsomol?"
Michail looked at his grandson and patted the sofa. "Come and sit."
Sacha joined his grandfather, curling his legs up on the sofa. The fire cracked and the flame flickered in the gloom. The only other light was the small oil lamp on the table.
"In those days everyone wanted to join the Komsomol. Everyone our age, but you had to be fourteen. The Komsomol was the youth division of the Communist Party founded after the revolution."
Sacha listened attentively. "So, you went away on a summer camp?"
The old man reflected a moment as those memories flooded his mind and played with his emotions. He was not certain he wanted to go there. Back to those events in the summer of seventy-two. Sacha delved into the box once more, extracting the next item which he held up to get a good look at it. The colours of the old photo were a pale image from the past.
"And who is this?" he asked, handing the photo to his grandfather.
"Ah! You don't recognise me?"
"It's you!" Sacha took back the photo and held it at different angles to better see the boy who was his grandfather.
"It was taken before the camp, in the government building in Nametkina Street, the old Cheryomushki district. Pavel was standing behind the man taking pictures. He had asked who wanted to be in his group."
"And you raised your hand."
"Yes. The elderly photographer was not pleased because it was exactly at the moment he took the shot. I remember he shouted, 'I don't have film to waste!'"
"Who was Pavel?"
"I didn't know him at all at the time, but we all were in groups, each with a leader. For some reason I chose Pavel. I saw him laugh when the old photographer got angry and I knew I had made the right choice. Afterwards he was stern and reprimanded me in front of everyone for spoiling the photo."
"Well yes, he had to. In those days you had to keep a proper face. But later he took me aside, when we were alone, and he told me he was happy I had been so excited to choose him as my leader. From then on we were not only cadet and leader, but firm friends."
The fire leant a flickering glow which warmed the room. Both man and boy were relaxed and contented, but Sacha wanted to hear more of the story.
"And what happened at the summer camp?"
"Ah! Well we were twenty boys of varying ages in four groups. All good little Soviet cadets. You wouldn't know, because life here has changed, but I believed what they said. Everything they taught us."
"The Party." Michail stared into space. His eyes wandered over the room and his thoughts drifted.
He was there standing in line with the other cadets and their leaders. The windows were half open, those old metal framed windows which opened only at the top, held there by a bar. He remembered clearly, could even feel the warm summer breeze on his cheeks. The uniformed camp director was addressing the assembly.
"Work and discipline are the order of the day," he was saying.
For an instant a doubt resurged. Where had he heard that slogan before? It was in his German class. Michail was good at languages, near the top of his class, and excellent at German. 'Arbeit macht frei,' work makes one free, the words adorned the Nazi concentration camp. How different were the Communists? Perhaps all totalitarian regimes were identical. It was not a good idea to think this way and those thoughts he quickly shuffled to the back of his mind. Only years later would he question himself. Standing with the crowds as he watched the concrete slab fall to the ground leaving in its wake a giant hole. Nineteen eighty-nine Michail was in Berlin on the Soviet side when communism crumbled.
It is often difficult to change and adapt, especially when for a large part of your life you have lived apart in a different world. Michail, however, had always felt apart, even from the Soviet reality which was his home. Why? Because of that one summer when he turned fourteen. Because of Pavel. The man was a model and a hero for young Michail. He wore so cleverly the skin of a chameleon. As he once told Michail, "You must change, and weave your way through life. Never reveal who you really are, but be true to yourself. Grasp the opportunities, live the lie."
All those years ago Michail thought that Pavel was talking about making the most of life in Soviet Russia. But he wasn't. Or not simply that. Michail was young and inexperienced, he never understood what happened between them. Not until now, as an old man, did those words change colour in his mind and reveal another animal entirely.
They set off together, the two of them. Pavel was the oldest person there, apart from the camp director. At twenty-eight it was his final year. Michail never took account of their difference in age. He respected, admired, and looked up to the man. Maybe more than simply that, there was an emotional tie.