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The Cosmonaut

All schoolchildren in Rusia belong to at least one after-school club. This activity is counted as part of their schoolwork. There are clubs for mathematics, music, art, and many other subjects. But why, Kniajin’s teacher wondered, would anyone want to join all the clubs?

The new boy sat in the last row. His hair was so red that it was impossible not to notice him. “We have a new kid,” said Levushkin, the class chatterbox.
The teacher asked the new where he came from.”They tore down our old house and we moved to a new apartment in this neighborhood,” he answered.
“What is your name?”
“And how is your math?” This teacher taught math.
“It’s my most favorite subject,” answered Kniajin.
Noticing the new boy’s face. Then he turned to the board and began to explain a new type of equation.
As always when the teacher’s back was turned, Levushkin began to whisper and giggle. “Be quit! You’re making it hard for the rest of us to hear what he’s saying,” the teacher heard the new boy tell Levushkin. He turned around and saw Levushkin look very put out, as if he had taken a mouthful of scalding tea and didn’t know whether to spit it out or swallow it.
“Kniajin,” said the teacher,”go to the board and solve this problem using the new equation.”
The new boy solved the problem quickly. Then he explained how he had done it, speaking clearly and without hesitation. The teacher liked his answer. Many of the boys in that class would have used too many words, but not Kniajin.
The recess bell rang. As the children were pouring out of the classroom, Levushkin’s voice was heard saying,” Did you hear that kid! I made it ‘hard’ for him. Too bad! It’s only his first day here and already he’s trying to be boss. A guy can’t even breathe with him around! A redhead and a teacher’s pet on top of it!”
“I know my hair is red,” Kniajin snapped back,”you needn’t bother to tell me. And you’re nothing but a fool to tease me about a thing like that. Exactly-a fool.”
A week later the shcool’s Senior Club Leader showed the math teacher the lists with the names of children who had signed up for different interest clubs. Kniajin’s name was the first on the math-club list. “Very good!” thought the teacher.”That boy is all right. We need more like him.” Then he leafed through the rest of the lists and came upon Kniajin’s name on nearly all of them. The new boy had signed up for the zoology as well as the physics and the sports clubs. The only one he hadn’t joined was the singing group.
During the next recess the teacher called him over.”Why did you join all the clubs?” he asked.”In my opinion, this was rather thoughtless.”
“I had to do it,” answered the boy.

“Perhaps you don’t know what really interests you?”
“No, it’s not that. I don’t know,” Kniajin said stubbornly,”but I must join a lot of them. The reason is a secret.”
“Secret or no secret,” said the teacher,”you’d better not bother to come to the math club. If you’re going to be in the zoology, the physics, and the sports groups, you certainly wont’t have time left for much math.”
The boy looked quite upset. He even grew pale. The teacher felt sorry that he had spoken to him so harshly. After all, he was still only a youngster.
For a few moments the two stood facing each other in silence. Then Kniajin blurted out,”I must make sure that I know everything. So that they couldn’t do without me. I’m going to be a spaceship pilot. I’ve never mentioned this to anyone, but you made me...”
“So that’s what it is,” said the teacher, really looking at Kniajin for the first time. His shock of red hair covered a large, slightly bulging forehead, and his blue eyes were now full of despair. “He’s the kind that will make it,” he thought. “This one will reach his goal.” And the math teacher now suddenly remembered how it had left during the war to parachute from a plane-how frightened he had been when he jumped into the void, looking down on the distant earth below, on the trees seeming like small clumps of fur, on the rivers which looked like rain puddles, and how he had worried: “What if the parachute doesn’t open?” At that moment the earth had become not welcoming but terrified,” the teacher mused, “but this one will go up there anyway!”
And to Kniajin he said, “If that’s the case, if you’re determined to be a cosmonaut, I have no objection to your joining all the clubs.”
“Thank you,” said Kniajin.
For the first three months of the term Kniajin didn’t miss a single meeting of the term Kniajin didn’t miss a single meeting of the math group. Then he stopped coming. He was absent-minded in class and he had even become noticeably thinner.
“How come you dropped out of the math club?” the teacher asked him one day.
Kniajin raised his eyes. They were like the eyes of another person-they were now not full of despair but deeply mournful and not nearly as blue. “I’ll probably start coming again,” he said absently.
Later Levushkin, who had become friends with the new boy, told the teacher, “Kniajin is in big trouble! I’m not supposed to tell you what it is, but he sure is in big trouble!” The teacher decided he would have a talk with Kniajin one day soon. But, by accident, he ran into him that very evening. He was standing near the counter in a bookstore when he suddenly heard a familiar voice ask, “Do you have anything new today?”
“Listen,” the saleswoman answered, “don’t expect something new every day. Why don’t you come around only once or twice a week?” The teacher looked around to see whom she was addressing. There stood Kniajin. There was something different about him. The teacher didn’t realize at once what it was; then he noticed that the boy was wearing glasses. Small, child’s lenses in a light metal frame. Kniajin blushed, his cheeks, ears, and even his nose turning a purple red.
“Oh, it’s you,” said the teacher. But he didn’t have time to add another word before the boy took to his heels. The teacher ran after him. “Kniajin,” he called to him, “Kniajin, wait!”
A man looked strangely at the running teacher, and a woman cried,”Stop that boy!”
Only then did Kniajin halt. Without looking at his teacher, he removed his glasses and hung his head.
“A smart boy like you ought to know better than that! There are plenty of people who have to wear glasses, and they’re not ashamed of it. Don’t take offense, but, in my opinion, you’re being quite silly.”
Kniajin remained silent.
“To run away because of something like that!” the teacher continued. “And Levushkin called it ‘big trouble’. Nonsense!”
Kniajin looked up, saying in a choked voice,”But they won’t accept me as a pilot. I found out that they don’t take near-sighted people. Now I’ll never be able to fly spaceships. I hate these glasses!”
“So, that’s it,”the teacher said to himself, “that’s why he’s been so miserable and getting so thin. His first dream has been shattered to bits, and he’s suffering-alone and in secret.”
“You’re torturing yourself for no reason,” he said to the boy. “You can fly in a spaceship as an astronomer, an engineer, or a physician.”
“Do you really think so? Do you really think that I can still have some hope?” He clung to the teacher’s words with relief. “Why did’t I think of that? I’m just a fool! Exactly-a fool.”
Kniajin replaced his glasses on his nose, now beaming red with joy, and took off as though he were running straight toward his happy future.

1 comment:

  1. Who is the author of this short story?


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