‘One thing that never fails this writer is his imagination. Gela Chkvanava can at any time break off or take up his narrative. He has a gift for invention and for plotting…’
M. Kharbedia, literary critic, author / Radio Liberty
Translated into English by by PJ Hillery
The Major, the commander of the Second Company, was oddly obstinate: he couldn’t stand subdivision into ‘gangs’. He was firmly convinced that fighters in the various subdivisions of the Company, staffed by him taking into full account – as he considered it – character and ties of family and friendship, shouldn’t have been divided into still narrower circles and groups of friends. ‘All of you in the companies and platoons be on friendly terms, with no taking of sides,’ he would say to the boys, but he could never stand it that they didn’t carry out his commands. He didn’t count it as taking sides the fact that he trusted more than others his brother-in-law Koba and the latter’s two classmates, Dato and, especially, Mamuka, well- known for his seriousness, and he didn’t consider that he himself was giving an example of division into ‘gangs’. Nor did he trouble himself to clarify why others shouldn’t have the right to place special trust in someone. Dropping in before an attack he would say exactly the same thing to everyone: ‘Watch it, there should be no unauthorized or group activities.’ (What he meant was that we shouldn’t be divided or broken up as we saw fit during the battle.) ‘Show me some respect, just do the right thing by me in this attack, and I know how to show you my respect afterwards,’ he would say with a smile that was both chiding and coaxing. He would say it in approximately the same tone as a teacher admonishing pupils taken on an excursion: ‘Just don’t spread out on me and I won’t give you a poor grade when we get back to the school.’ It was as if they were going on an outing to the seaside from which all would return healthy and unharmed, and not on an attack and to die. This relieved the boys’ tension before the attack. ‘He knows how to treat people,’ said Mamuka of the Major. For some reason headquarters had planned the attack for midday.
It was the personal doing of the Major that the Second Company had been blockaded. He hadn’t kept to the general plan worked out in advance, he had shown too much eagerness and enthusiasm for a fight, and had made the boys overstep the bounds.
At first it looked like everything was going well. The Major had plenty of information on the commander of the opposing company stationed opposite his position – past middle age, as they said, a man who had lost two sons in this war – some of it obtained through reconnaissance, more picked up through his own channels. According to the Major, the commander of the opposing company, to whom he himself gave the nickname ‘Old Khottabych’ was no fool: his level of discipline was adequate, but his thinking was conventional, he was largely lacking in audacity, and he had trouble with taking decisions.
The ‘Major’s Lads’, as they called the boys in the Major’s company, moved their position forward to the next ravine in line with what had been worked out. If truth be told, the new position was significantly more disadvantageous than the old one, but the general disposition of forces – not only at battalion level but overall on the scale of the perimeter – would improve and become more favourable. The First and Third Companies (the latter was called the ‘Carab-ineers’ on account of ‘Carbine’, the company commander) had to endure some heavy fighting to take possession of that sector of the slope allocated to them. But the Major’s Lads made their adversary retreat relatively easily and quickly... (See PDF)
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