Dreams from a Soviet childhood: “Klava”

In our fourth-year primary school class, there was a girl called Klava. I don’t remember her surname. She was quiet, inconspicuous and plain, short and poorly dressed all in grey. She did not take part in class games and never even jumped the skipping rope with other girls during school breaks.

She always got average marks and was her parents’ only daughter. Both her parents worked at the school, her father as the boiler man and her mother as a caretaker.

Klava was the only Orthodox believer in our class. She was the constant concern and headache of our teacher Faina Grigorevna, a woman who was as beautiful as she was clever and kind.

Once, our teacher went off sick for quite a while and so was replaced by the Head Teacher, who taught history and social science to the older classes. Naturally, I don’t remember her name.

When she learned there was a believer in the class, she was completely horrified. She shouted that while she was Head Teacher there would be no religion in our school. That same day, in place of the last lesson of the day, she announced a special ‘town hall’ meeting in which she called Klava to the blackboard and demanded that she publicly denounce God in front of the entire class.

Klava did not say a word and hung her head in shame. Seeing that the silent Klava was not going to respond and having exhausted all her cries and threats to expel Klava, the Head Teacher decided to switch to a gentler approach.

“There is no God! There just isn’t! I am not afraid of God! He can’t do anything with me, you see?” she continued calmly.

Klava remained silent.

Losing all patience, the Head Teacher finally went back to shouting.

Klava’s lower lip began to tremble furiously and several times she tried to speak, but all she could do was make strange sounds. There was an oppressive silence but right at that moment Nikolay, who shared a desk with Klava, grabbed hold of his stomach and fell to the floor with a terrible groan.

Leaving Klava by the blackboard, the Head Teacher came over to see what was wrong with Nikolay and sent someone for the doctor. Right at that moment, the class was saved by the bell, Nikolay made a sudden ‘recovery’ and everyone went their own way home.

Klava did not come to school the next day. Her parents did not come to work the next day either. The Head Teacher sent Nikolay and I to visit their tiny cottage on the outskirts of the town to summon the entire family to the school.

When we got there, the door was wide open. There was no-one inside and the house was empty. The neighbour said that the family of three had said a quick goodbye the evening before, loaded their things into a small truck and set off, who knows where, without saying anything to anyone.


Karmak Bagisbayev, professor of mathematics, author of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”

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