The Children Of Kurat Kalju
28 children disappear. But nothing is as it seems
If you go north of Viljandi where the great lake swallows the skies and sinks the forests in the spring floods, you’ll come to the Beria Valley. Well, that’s what they want you to call it. The guards with their tobacco brown spit and their hard cold gloves demanded you corrected your tongue in the streets and cafes of the old town. But no one called it that, not really, even then. They use the old name, the name of the old gods, the name hushed in soft tones over the steam of burnt coffee and one rouble bread. Kurat Kalju.
The name tasted like sugar paper on my tongue, back then, all those years ago. I rolled it silently around my mouth over and over in class, enjoying the fullness of vowels and the forbidden ancient crispness of the consonants. Kur-at. Kur-at. Kur-at. I won’t tell you any more of the words I remember from the old country, but that one is important. Remember that one, at least. It was her favourite too.
Sofia Koppel was the tallest girl in class, with red braids that hung down to her waist and flew far behind her on her bicycle like a Valkyrie. Her father, Comrade Koppel, had been a butcher’s assistant before the war and was now valued by the authorities for his loose tongue in naming those who bought more than was seemly. My mother used to say he never changed profession, just moved carcasses from beasts to the bourgeoisie. Her mama? I remember. A very tall, yellow haired lady who darned socks by her window with sad blue eyes. Forgive me, I’m old. I wander, sometimes, but I never lie. But remember that. It’s important. You won’t read this anywhere else. It’s a secret.
You see, Sofia was the first one it happened to.
When little boys take their bicycles deep into the gorge and they disappear into the thick forests, no one is wild with questioning, you see. A sad heroic act of a child that ends in the discovery of a small, cold body wrapped in his mother’s knitting when the river thaws out with the spring. But it wasn’t like that, not this time, not in late November, 1951.
Mama had gripped me hard by the shoulders and shook me so hard her fingertips left bruises. “When did you see her,” she had said in that low…