Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The First Circle

Writer and Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Among the street phone booths there was a vacant one, but it looked like it had a window broken. Innokenty headed for the metro.

Down there, all four telephone booths were occupied. Further left, however, some simpleton, drunk and mellow, was finishing and about to hang up. He smiled at Innokenty and was even about to say something. Once in the booth, Innokenty pulled the thick glass door up tightly; the other hand, still in the suede glove, dropped a coin and dialed the number.

After a series of long ring tones someone picked up.
“Is this the secretariat?” he asked, trying to change his voice.
“Yes, it is.”
“Could you please put me through to the Ambassador? Right now?”
“You can’t call the ambassador,” the response came in very good Russian. “What is the matter?”
“Then – the deputy! Or a military attaché! And please, hurry!”
There was some thinking on the other side of the wire. Innokenty made a bet with himself: it’s a no.
So be it. There’ll be no other time.
“Okay, I am putting you through to the attaché.”
The clicking of the connecting lines.
Behind the glass door, steps away from the booths, people were running, rushing, overtaking each other. Then someone split off from the crowd and impatiently joined the line to Innokenty’s booth.

With a very strong accent, in a very well-fed and lazy voice, someone uttered into the receiver, “I an listening to you. What do you want?”
“Mister military attaché, sir?” Innokenty asked harshly.
“Yes, aviation…” the other side responded.
What was he to do? Covering his mouth, in a low voice but very resolutely, Innokenty tried to get through to him, “Mister attaché, sir! Please, write down and pass the information over to the ambassador immediately…”
“Wait for a moment!” another slow replay came. “I will call an interpreter.”
“I can’t wait!” Innokenty was raging. (He was no longer able to keep his voice disguised). “And I will not talk to any of the Soviet people! Don’t hang up! It’s about the future of your country! And not just that! Look: very soon in New York, a Soviet agent Georgy Koval will receive …
“I don’t understand you,” the attaché calmly objected. Of course, he was sitting in a comfortable chair, with no one behind his back. Women’s happy talk was heard in the background. – “Call the Canadian embassy – they know Russian.”

Innokenty could feel the booth’s floor burning under his feet, while the receiver was melting in his hand like a black steel chain. The only foreign word would definitely destroy him!

“Listen to me! Listen!” he reiterated desperately. “In a few days the Soviet agent Koval will receive important technical information on the atomic bomb at an electronics store…”

Translated by Ekaterina Shubnaya, RT


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