Christmas day! I sat with my closest friends in the comfiest chairs in the house, around the warmest fire for miles around. I’d never been so happy, we were all laughing and sharing bottles of vodka we found in the kitchen. It was a beautiful day, the bright winter sun smiled upon us from the top of the sky and shone on the snow covered street that I called home. Rolan had my gift inside a pillow case.
“Это не очень, но я уверен, что Вы будете любить это! It's not much, but I'm sure you'll love it!”
He slowly pulled a thick scarf out of the filthy, hole ridden pillow case.
“Rolan, я не могу верить Вам! Это - лучшая вещь, которую я когда-либо имел для Рождества! Спасибо так! Rolan, I can't believe you! This is the best thing I've ever had for Christmas! Thank you so much!”
Just as quick as the happiness came, it was sucked out of the room by the cold shadow of death; a demon we were all familiar with. The sound of a rifle fire accompanied by the haunting sensation of Rolan’s head being blown all over my face. The pieces of skull knocked me backwards off my chair on to the jagged rubble below. I tasted his brains and blood in my mouth and felt them burn in to my eyes. Most of my senses were blown away, I couldn’t open my eyelids or smell through my blood soaked nose. My mouth was full of brains and skull, I had to rely on sound and touch to get me out of danger. Quickly I clambered over the bricks and destroyed furniture towards my comrades who were screaming my name. The sharp edges of the debris below me tore my fingers and awkwardly dug in to my hands. I didn't care, adrenaline had kicked in. Three or four brave arms pulled me to the safety of a brick wall where I instantly lay down, shaking in fear. After I had thrown up Rolan’s face out of my throat I gradually managed to open my eyes. 1942, the best Christmas day I’ve ever had was soon beaten to death by the harsh reality of Stalingrad that lay before my eyes. The happiness that pierced through the curtain of death and depression had made this Christmas magical. It was too good to be true, the blown apart buildings that once housed my friends and family took another stab at what was left of my soul. Somewhere out there was a fascist sniper, ready to murder everyone of us without a moment’s hesitation.
“Останьтесь на второй год товарищи, я собираюсь покрывать Вас, выходить через черный ход, тогда делают то же самое для меня. Stay down comrades, I'm going to cover you, get out through the back door then do the same for me.” The frightened sixteen year old Vladimir cried as he tried to fix his jammed rifle.
I shivered through shock and cold, I wasn’t a soldier. No part of me was a Russian bear, ready to fight the German wolf with the British bulldog as Stalin would like me to be. I was nothing, I was a baker! I was a loving Father to a murdered daughter and a loyal husband to a murdered wife. One dark day somebody shoved a rifle in to my hands and told me if I take one step backwards he would kill me. He didn’t care that I was carrying my wife who had her skull falling out of her once pretty face, he didn’t care that my newborn daughter had no legs and was still managing to scream. All he cared about was protecting the motherland from the German murderers that swept across this once beautiful city like a plague.
We made a break for the back door as Vladimir fired his first shot, we knew we wouldn’t have to cover him back straight away. The sniper made short work of him, the poor boy didn’t even have time to scream.
I barely made it through the door when gunfire shredded the three men in front of me, the tranquil, snow covered garden was splattered with red Russian blood. I tried to make a sudden stop but slipped on the black ice that covered the doorway. I crashed down on to the concrete steps face first, instantly three bullets hit me in the back. One below my right shoulder, another in my spine and a third to my pelvis.
For a few seconds I rolled around in agony, barely being able to scream. The shadows of my murderers loomed over me. Three men, all wearing Nazi uniforms. Thick white suits designed for snow warfare.
“Guter Schuss! Ein weniger russischer Bauer, um sich zu befassen!” I don’t know what he said, but it was directed at the young man holding the smokey machine gun. I looked in to his eyes expecting to see cold hate. All I saw was shock and sadness, this man was just like me. A conscripted soldier who’d lost it all in this horrific war.
One of the men spat on me, his eyes had been penetrated by the devil’s fire. He raised up his gun to my chest. I anxiously waited for this all to be over.
“Это - Рождество Вы гребаные ублюдки! It’s Christmas day you f*cking bastards!”
He showed no mercy, with delight he pulled out a silver knife from his coat.
“Er ist die Scheißkugeln nicht sogar wert!”
As it approached my throat I realised it was the best Christmas present I’ve ever had.