Frank Thoms

The Veteran

Apr 01, 2023 by Frank Thoms

On the stage behind the veteran, Rima Alexandrovna leaned to her right and began to chortle with her assistant, Tatyana. The hall soon swelled into a cacophony, as though the veteran were not there. And, for fifteen minutes! When he finished his inaudible speech, the applause crescendoed—the loudest of the day.

From my book: The room had become a free-for-all for teachers, students—and for Rima Alexandrovna. I felt sorry for the veteran. I couldn’t imagine what he was thinking. What had begun as a formal ceremony in honor of a momentous historical event had no heart. I felt a deep emptiness. The director’s adherence to formal Soviet decorum dissolved to reveal the school’s pokazukha, a hollow respect for the old man—for the Revolution itself. Before dismissing the assembly, she presented him with a red carnation. Students burst out of their chairs. Rima Alexandrovna gathered the staff for a photograph. She placed the veteran and guests in front, put herself in the center of the middle row, her assistants on either side.

She placed the starjour [probationary teacher] directly behind her at the top. At the top, an observer, not a member of the collective. That was me.

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