My good Nel Jia,
I am well and happy to write to you again after so long. It’s raining hard in Moscow, and it’s windy and cold. But I am home. It warmed my heart to see the cherry trees in the University Park still standing, untouched by the war. Nel Jia, my greatest wish now is that we can push them back and take Moscow before the next May, so I can walk with you among the blooming cherry trees! If I were a great painter, an impressionist, I would spend my life on a single painting – you, lying on the grass filled with petals, under the cherry trees of the University Park, in May. Oh, could life itself ever stay still, like that painting?
We are holed up in an old bunker on the „Zhukov” defense line that was supposed to hold off the invaders when they came, eight months ago. They don’t know we’re here, but I’m running each day to an abandoned telegraph station on Zemlinskaya Street and I wire reports to the command unit. The idiots didn’t bother to cut the lines.
After the drop, we scattered over the Zamoskvorechie district, what used to be the richest zone in Moscow. They sent a motorized division to hold us off but our captain was in no mood for fighting, so he reported our unit overrun and regrouped us a couple of miles up the motorway to Poland. The motorway to Europe. Heh, you could say that at this time, the mighty allied invading army is cut off from the rest of Europe, by a bunch of rag tags. Of course, they have no idea and we have no intention of letting them know any time soon.
I remembered your father, as I was walking through the ruined vineyards and gardens near the city. I remembered how he laughed and cried with all his heart that day in June, the day you returned with me from Petersburg, how he hugged and kissed you as if you had come back from the dead. I remembered how we talked all day, while your little sisters were playing the pipa and the monsoon was pouring calm, warm streams from the sky. We spoke in five languages about small and grand things, and sometimes we were mixing them up and we laughed and we felt so tremendously close that for one second I thought I saw a spark of jealousy in your eyes – you thought maybe that I was more in love with that place and those people than I was with you.
But in a touch of irony, now, in the middle of the war, I love that place more than then, because now Petersburg is a ruin and Moscow is burning. That orchard is the only place left in this world that I am lavishly fond of, as I was once fond of my family’s house in Moscow, on P.I. Ceaikovsky Str. as I was once fond of Professor Tvo’s lemon tree garden, in the greenhouse of the Petersburg College of Philosophy and Humanist Arts. That orchard is the only place left in this world that I would die to defend.
Tomorrow, we will link up with three Spetsnaz agents who made contact with the remaining Russian resistance in the city. I will be very close to my home street – I don’t know if there’s anything left there, but I have learned to live with loss a long time ago, it won’t hurt so much. A long time ago… How cynical and cruel, time measures us. Only a year ago my mother was making strawberry cake for us and my brother Sasha was playing cards with little Galina, father Yaroslav’s daughter, on the stone table in the yard.
I will see you soon. I will bring you a snow globe from Moscow, for Christmas. They used to make the most beautiful snow globes in the world, with little crystal snow flakes glimmering inside, with a tiny village road near a cottage and a sleigh pulled by two brown horses.
I send you my love and my hopes. Hold them gently with you until I can dream and hope on my own once more.
You are always in my prayers, dear Nel Jia.
Darius Pavlovici Nettimans.
Posted October 22nd
To Nel Jia Li