An unfamiliar man in a white coat took an instinctive step to the side, and my hand, stretching towards his chest pocket, grasping only air, falls back again to the mattress.
“What does he want?” asks the man, feeling his pocket.
“The pen, probably,” posed a woman’s voice; and that woman, who I didn’t see, was right: the pen, of course, I needed the pen. The blue gel pen from the chest pocket of the white coat of that man.
“A writer,” the man with the pen said respectfully – but he did not give me the pen. Discussing the amusing incident, the entire delegation took off, leaving me alone with the artificial ventilation lung that went through a special hole made in my throat. The hole was made lower than the vocal chords; therefore, even after regaining consciousness, I couldn’t speak. Seeing the pen in the doctor’s pocket, I would have been thrilled to take the pen and, at least on my own bandaged hand, write: “It itches under the cast!!!!!!” – they would read it and help, scratch it with something. And instead of that – the backs recede in their white coats, and there’s no help at all. At that point I still didn’t know that one of the backs belonged to a paid agent of the LifeNews publication – the resident resuscitation expert (I exposed him a week later), and who, several hours later and under the heading “Braveheart,” told how I demanded a pen and paper in order to begin, even while still attached to an artificial breathing machine, to write the horrible truth about the people behind the attack on me.
In the resuscitation ward, wrapped in tubes and wires, I could sleep (and slept) as much as necessary in any form, whether artificially medicated or healthily and naturally. I could keep quiet, I could (from the ninth day onwards) speak and, even while I couldn’t talk, still resolved the communication problem: a childrens chalkboard, left behind by someone, was found, and by drawing a rectangle with my hands in the air – a conventional gesture that everyone immediately understood for some reason – I could write what I was concerned about and what I wanted on this board. Only, I didn’t need to write about the itchy cast; they removed it faster than the board turned up. Therefore, the main topics of my notes were complaints about the probe in my nose – they fed me through the nose with some kind of special food – and flirting with the nurses. My life in those days, any way you look at it, was interesting and fascinating.
But aside from me personally – yes and the doctors and nurses as well – who knew about this life? Nobody knew. My real life was happening, maybe, a half-hour drive from the hospital. Outside of the police office at Petrovka, switching places with one another, my friends and former enemies stood in solitary pickets with posters of my name, having suddenly become friends (I say this without irony; enemies may sometimes seriously become friends). A newspaper called “Kashin,” completely devoted to me, was printed. On Pushkin Square, and afterwards on Chistie Prudy, rallies were held in my defense. “Do you want the classic Kashin or the one with his signature?” girls politely asked a line of pensioners waiting for my portrait, which they could attach to their chests.
The term “Journalist Kashin” appeared in President Medvedev’s lexicon. When a group of students in the journalism department at Moscow State University, locked in a classroom with windows facing the Kremlin, hung a poster out the window reading “Who beat Kashin?” a joke started going around: Dmitri Medvedev barricaded himself in his office, with windows facing the journalism department, and hung a poster out the window: “It wasn’t me!” – the joke is from Twitter, but who could guarantee that it didn’t really happen? The events in the week after my beating proved it: anything is possible, anything in general. The universal childhood dream, not to die but to be at one’s own funeral and hear who says what and how, came true for me alone. “Oleg, you’re going to wake up and be stunned!” – a phrase from the book of honorable recordings from a routine Kashin rally. And it’s true, I woke up and was stunned.
Journalist Kashin – that is to say, I – quietly came to in the resuscitation ward. A half-hour drive away from me, somebody was going on a rampage, somebody who even people who knew me personally were ready to take for Journalist Kashin, brave and uncompromising, personally presenting a threat to the Kremlin, as well as hope for freedom and happiness. “Kashin, get up! Kashin, write!” cried the square. The square didn’t know that I was already up in bed and was writing on the board: “I want to go to the bathroom.” The tabloids quoted Journalist Kashin (but not me): “They will not silence me!” – unfortunately, without indicating what topic Journalist Kashin wanted to have his say on. There was only one thing that interested me at the end of the second week after the attack. There was once a handsome young pilot named Gagarin. He was somehow chosen to be astronaut number one, and at the age of 27, or something, he flew into space for a bit more than an hour. He came back – and that was it, there was no more life, just presidiums, banquets, presentations that stamped the impending doom onto his handsome young face. This went on for seven years before he died for good. I lay in the resuscitation ward, flipped through the “Kashin” newspaper, and thought about Gagarin and how we are alike.
But I have one important advantage over Gagarin. The New Year’s recess – a terrific, as I understand now, invention. December is now beginning, I’ll likely be ill the whole time, and then the country will start to drink. We’ll return to work together, the country after the holidays and myself after rehab. Nobody will remember. Nobody will notice. And it will be normal, like before, to work. After all, they will not silence me.