Hello, brother! Hello, my missing one! Here again, I came to talk with you. You know, we never believed that you disappeared. A person cannot disappear without a trace. When, at forty-third, a notice came from your commander that you were missing, my mother said:
“That doesn’t mean anything … Maybe he’s a prisoner. Or lies in a hospital with a severe wound, and therefore does not give news. But he could not die!
I believed my mother, and we both lived with this hope for many years.
Then, in the forty-first, I was six years old, but I remember you well, brother! I remember how you left.
Do you remember? You gathered in the courtyard of our house for twelve families, adults set up tables and each brought along some kind of food.
Then came the guys and girls from your class. Our neighbor brought a radio – there was only one for the whole house – and everyone was dancing.
I even remember that it was the foxtrot “Rio Rita” – the most popular pre-war melody.
After the war, when we bought our receiver with a player, I took out the same record and often listened to it. Each time again and again plunging into that hot summer day, when we saw you for the last time.
I don’t remember our father — he had a different family, and we did not meet often. But I remember that he also came to see you.
We sat with our mother on the bench and talked for a long time about something. I sat on my father’s lap until I fell asleep.
A month later, our father left for the war. We also did not see him again. Only two letters came from my father, and my mother kept them in her box with his photographs until the end of her life.
She didn’t read them to me. But I myself once got into my mother’s box and read my father’s letters.
Not a good deed, of course. But then I thought that I had a right to it – after all, it was my father.
The letters were good – gentle, affectionate. And here are your letters, brother, mother read aloud. And then I reread them many times. Because my mother gave them to me, and I kept these front-line triangles among myself.
These letters, together with the penknife that you gave me and the model of the glider that you collected, were my main wealth.
In 1942, I went to school and soon I wrote you a letter. But I didn’t receive an answer.
And then that terrible letter came, which began with the words “Your son went missing …”.
That’s when mom said she doesn’t believe that you were lost. At forty-four, we received a funeral letter for my father. He died in Hungary, near a city with the strange and long name Szekesfehervar.
You remember that mother was not a believer. But after all this, she began to go to church. And she always put two candles – one for our father for the repose, the other for you – for your health.
An icon appeared on her bedside table with St. Nicholas – the patron saint of all wanderers. Mom believed that you were alive. She lived this hope. So did I.
Then mom was gone. She was gone, but the hope that you will return did not leave me.
Sorry, I don’t go to church, I don’t put funeral candles, I just remember you – our father and you, my brother.
I always remembered and loved you. Your photos are still hanging in my room.
You have always been by my side, brother. I studied by your textbooks, I finished your things and did not want to part with them until they became completely dilapidated.
Before going to bed, I laid your shirt under the pillow and fell asleep in the hope of seeing you in a dream. I don’t remember whether I saw you in dreams or not, because so many years have passed.
I am now almost twice as much as my father was then and four times as much as you. I have grown children, grandchildren, and they know about you. I named the eldest son in honor of my father, the younger – in your name.
After eight years, I graduated from the courses of drivers. We had to work – our mother’s salary was not enough for us.
In the mid-sixties, when the opportunity arose to travel abroad, I went on a tour package to Hungary. One day, having told our “curator” from the KGB that I was sick, I stayed at the hotel. When everyone left, I found the bus station, got on the bus and drove to that very city with a ridiculous name.
There, at the station near the car, a local resident stood. Not knowing the language, I gestured to him that I needed to go where the fighting was, where there is a monument to our soldiers.
He guessed and took me to a small village near the city. There I found the mass grave and the name of my father on the marble plank of the obelisk.
While I was standing at the obelisk, the driver was saying something to me, but I did not understand him. He left me alone and left. But he soon returned with a bouquet of flowers, which we put on the grave.
Then he brought a paper bag, and I put a handful of earth in it. The land that has been sheltering my father and his comrades for so many years.
I don’t know what land you are lying in, brother. In what region to look for you. Maybe you ended your days in captivity, as our mother thought. Or maybe you were mixed with earth by a shell that exploded nearby. I do not know…
At one time, I traveled a lot around the country and each time, driving along the highway and finding out that in this city or village there is a grave of an unknown soldier, I came to it and talked with you. Here it is now.
I needed to talk to you, brother. If I forgot to tell you something today, I will tell you next time.
And now, goodbye my brother. And know: I love you and I remember. I believe that souls do not die, which means that you hear me and also talk to me. I’m feeling it.
* * *
Someone from the great commanders said that a war cannot be considered finished until its last soldier is buried. For seven and a half decades we have been waging a war – a war with oblivion, tearing out more and more new names from oblivion. But … forgive us, Unknown Soldier, that your name is still not stamped on the marble of the obelisks.
You had a name given at birth. You had a mother and a father, friends and relatives. And they have not forgotten about you all these years.
There are no unknown soldiers. There are still unrecognized fates.