On the twentieth of April some punks came to our town to celebrate Hitler's birthday. I had no idea what was going on -- I just went to the city center and saw that there was a fight on Peace Avenue, right in the middle of the street. Some of the brawlers were regular guys, and some had earrings and the sides of their heads shaved.
Cars on the street stopped and honked, but none of the punks noticed. A cop car drove up, but three cops couldn't do anything against a hundred brawlers.
I stopped to watch at the fight, and around me passersby were also stopping and looking. Some were talking:
"What kind of disgrace is this? And in the city center! What are the police doing just watching?"

Then more cops arrived in three cars, enough now to handle the situation, but the guys fighting ran in different directions. The passersby began to disperse, and I left too.
The next day my classmates were talking about it. They said the ones with earrings and and the sides of their heads shaved were punks. They had come to celebrate Hitler Day, but some local guys went down to give them a proper reception. Two guys from our neighborhood, Ox and Evil, also went down to fight with these guys.
Lenka, my deskmate, gave me a lesson in history:
"Those weren't real punks. Real punks don't celebrate Hitler Day. My brother told me. Real ones aren't like that. They're normal, not like these gopniks."
It was Ox and Evil she was calling gopniks, and all the other thugs who were always fighting for our neighborhood.
And Lenka's brother, he was a student at the polytechnic institute. He moved away from their parents to live in the dorm because they wouldn't stop nagging him about his long hair and the music he listened to. He even got harassed by the police a few times for "possessing items of bourgeois value."
But that was a while ago, now they wouldn't bother him for this.
Lenka and I shared a desk for almost eight years, since first grade. Early on we always got teased: "sha-boom sha-boom, bride and groom!" Actually, we pretty much weren't even friends -- we yelled at each other a lot and wouldn't speak to each other for a week or more, even though we were sitting right next to each other. But in eighth grade it turned out that she and I were the only good students and we both did all the lessons. At that point we began to copy off each other so we'd have less homework. We decided in advance who would do algebra and who would do chemistry. And sometimes Lenka brought foreign music magazines to school that her brother gave her to read. She and I looked at them during geography and chemistry.
Two days after "Hitler Day" Lenka brought me a tape. She said it was "punk rock" and that the group was called The Sex Pistols. The name meant "sexual guns." She had given me other kinds of rock to listen to before - Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles. But when I got home, put the tape in my tape deck and played it, I liked it better than all the rest. I started jumping around the room and flailing my arms, and the neighbor below, auntie Shura, banged on the radiator.

The next day at school I told Lenka:
"That was awesome music."
"Yeah, you're right. It's cool. These guys are real punks. There's an article in our newspaper that says they may claim they're protesting bourgeois conditions, but it doesn't matter, they're still degenerates and moral monsters. But my brother told me that they dress like this and cut their hair this way to totally annoy everybody, so that everybody will hate them. It's like how everybody hates you and me, because we're good students and because we're from normal families. And our teachers also hate us because we talk and stuff during class, that's obnoxious to them.
"How do you know?"
"Everybody knows. But it's a bunch of crap. Come to my place tomorrow if you want, and we'll listen to music. My brother gave me lots of tapes. My parents hate this music, but tomorrow they won't be home."
Lenka's father was a math teacher and an alcoholic. People said he fell off the wagon and sobered up a bunch of times, and that he was fired from his regular job because of it. Now he was working as the school's security guard at night.
But also, he used to be a poet, and ten years ago, or maybe longer, his poetry was always being published in the city newspaper. Lenka hated her parents, and they hated her. They always yelled at her for her "failing" behavior. Lenka would have been a star pupil, but she argued with the teachers and asked them sarcastic questions. In seventh grade she didn't get "praiseworthy" for conduct, but at least in reading and writing she got all fives. The head teacher said that if behavior like this got recorded after tenth grade, not a single institute would accept her. But Lenka always answered:
"Whatever. It doesn't matter to me."
And I, on the other hand, was quiet in my conduct, and the head teacher often used me as an example. I felt embarrassed when that happened, disgusted and annoyed.
Lenka served me wine at her place. We drank from a big, thick glass. I had never drank wine before, just champagne from the table at family celebrations sometimes.
Lenka said:
"Don't be thinking we're gonna kiss or anything like that. Don't even think about it. If you try to force yourself on me I'll throw you right out and I won't be friends with you anymore, and also I'll tell my brother so he'll bash your face in. You are better than all those hicks and morons, though."
Lenka turned on the Sex Pistols at full volume.
I asked:
"And your neighbors won't get mad and come up?"
"They'll come up. We just won't answer the door. Only if it's the police, then we'll open up.
We drank the wine for a while in small sips, and then Lenka said:
"You're really smart, so you have to understand that it's all bogus. The only music that's cool is stuff like this. And whoever listens to it is cool, too, like the punks. You and I should be punks! Or are you afraid? I'm not scared. And really, I'm stronger than you. Let's wrestle."
Lenka put down the glass. We got down from the couch onto the floor and started to wrestle. She tried to pin me and I thought this was funny. I laughed and didn't resist, and she pinned my shoulders to the floor.
"See how strong I am?"
Lenka took the bottle from the table and poured more wine in the glass. I drank it all in one gulp and got lightheaded. There was a buzzing noise in my head and the room started spinning. I decided that I would definitely become a punk, or else Lenka would think I was a fucking coward and would never respect me again, and I would never get to come over to her house anymore, and we would never drink wine together again...

At home I went straight to the bathroom, turned on the faucet and put my head under the stream so the cold water would sober me up. I didn't want my mom to notice that I was drunk. But she heard me in the bathroom and peeked in.
"What happened? You got drunk? With who? Admit it right now."
But I didn't admit it. I just laid down and went to sleep.
In the morning I had an awful headache. Mama had already gone to work and nobody was in the apartment. I found the clippers in the box under the medicine cabinet and shaved the sides of my head. I didn't get it very even, but I didn't care. I combed my hair down over my forehead. I got it almost like in the newspaper photograph, the one with the article about the punks. Instead of my blue school shirt I wore a black one, and instead of school trousers I wore jeans. And I didn't put on a tie. Then when I went down the hallway, the whole school stared at me. I went in the classroom for the first lesson -- chemistry. Everybody turned around and looked at me. Lots of them laughed, and one kid pointed at his head and made a circle with his finger, like I was crazy. But Lenka smiled approvingly, and the rest of them could kiss my ass.
The head teacher came into the classroom and stopped.
"What's wrong with you? Why do you have such a foreign style today?"
"What's so foreign about it? Everything is the same as usual, only I forgot to wear my tie."
"What about your shirt? And your pants? And your haircut?"
"All my shirts are in the wash, and my school trousers are too. And why shouldn't the older classes get to wear whatever clothes we want?"
"Get out of this classroom."
"I'll go, too," says Lenka. "The man's getting thrown out for nothing - he didn't break any rules."
While Lenka is walking down the aisle, lots of kids are jeering and giggling.

That evening my mom yelled at me. The head teacher had called her at work and told her everything.
"Why is it that you're focused on this, and not on earning a medal of achievement?" Mama said.
"I don't need a medal."
"What do you need?"
My mom began to cry. She said that if my dad had lived with us, I wouldn't have grown into such an idiot.
The next day Lenka came to school dressed in our new style, too, and she did it far better than me. In her right ear were two earrings - she said she had punctured the second hole herself. She had also shaved the sides of her head and come in without her pinafore, but did have on bright red tights and sneakers.
"But we have to be good students, just like always, like nothing happened, so there's nothing for them to pick at," she said. "In this country we have perestroika and democracy, so they don't have the right to forbid us from dressing and looking the way we want."
During the class break the principal sent for us. This was the first time I had ever found myself in his office. There were two tables arranged in the shape of a letter "T", and in the corner there were several glass-doored bookshelves. There was almost nothing in them, just a small white bust of Lenin and a few books.
"You are honor students. You could be the pride of this school. But instead, this!" the principal bellowed at us. "What is the meaning of your appearance, and this type of clothing? Who are you trying to look like? You should be an example for the other students. Think about your future. If this behavior is marked down in your records neither of you will be accepted in a single institute, and moreover, your conduct will be marked as failing. You won't be seeing any medals.
"We don't need your medals," Lenka answered. "it's you who needs them for your records, for the school's reputation in the district."
The principal wasn't shocked by Lenka's insolence; he was used to it already.
"Kolpakova, how many times do we need to have this discussion? You disgrace your mother and she used to work here. She was in good standing, one of the better teachers. She will have to be called."
"Call her. It won't change anything," Lenka said.
I was starting to feel ashamed that I had said nothing in response to the principal's diatribe. Lenka was taking the rap for both of us by herself. And then I smiled as obnoxious and evil a smile as I could.
The principal came right at me and slapped me in the face.
"There's nothing to laugh about. This is serious business we're discussing. We won't put up with this if you want to continue on to ninth grade. If you keep it up you'll find yourself going to the vocational school, won't that be nice? And there they won't give a damn whether you're an honor student or flunky."
I swung with all my might and punched him in the gut. The principal doubled over, then straightened up, leaned against the table and looked at me in shock, like he couldn't believe it.
"You're not allowed to hit pupils," Lenka said. "And you struck him first. He defended himself, I witnessed it."
The principal didn't say anything. He'd been hit before and everybody knew it, but this was the first time an honor student had ever done it.
Lenka and I sat on the back steps at school and smoked. She's the one who taught me to smoke. She herself started smoking a year ago. It was warm, but gray and dusty, and the leaves on the trees hadn't come out yet.
"That was excellent," Lenka told me. "I thought you would piss yourself and not let him have it. Serves him right. And don't be scared, he won't tell anybody anything."
During the next class break two huge guys from the tenth grade came up to me, Tick and Huron. All of their friends left after eighth grade to go to vocational school, but they decided to go on to high school and somehow managed to hold on to their final year, even though they'd been barely C students.
"Hey, kid, you think you're special or something?" Huron asked me.
"And you had the balls to go to school this way? Why do you get to look like this and nobody else is allowed?"
"Anybody can do it, if they're not scared."
"And what, you're so brave? If we kick your ass you won't be showing off like that."
I didn't say anything. I thought it was unlikely that they would hit me right then.
"Look, here's the thing," said Tick. "We won't touch you - you're from our neighborhood, from our school. But if you go downtown, you'll get your ass kicked. They'll think the punks didn't get broken up, that you're still there for Hitler Day."
"What did you do with them?"
"With who?"
"With the punks."
"Nothing. Well, almost nothing. We kicked a few of their asses, and the rest the cops bandaged up, That's what you're in for. Get ready."
In the evening we sat on the roof of Lena's five story building and smoked. There was a hatch that led up into an alcove and onto the roof, and we were lying inside it.
"Everything's shit. This town is shit. A total shithole," Lenka inhaled and looked at the sunset. The roof was covered with pigeon crap, and there were cigarette butts and pieces of broken bottles scattered everywhere. We could hardly find a place where we could sit down.
"In Moscow or in Peter, out that way, there are plenty of punks and metal heads and other informal types, but here it's just proletarians and ex-cons. Shit, shit, shit. I'm going to Moscow to study after eighth grade."
"Where will you go?"
"It's not important. Some technical college. The main thing is that it's far away from here."
"And if you get a failing mark in behavior?"
"They won't do it. They'll piss themselves first. They know, that if they do I'll write a letter to the district and one to the regional education department and even more letters other places. You think they want the school to get audited? Those bastards are scared of an audit."
On the first of May we went with the whole school to a parade. At first we wanted to blow it off, but then Lenka said we had to go: let everybody look at us, let them know there aren't just freaks and proletarians in our neighborhood.
When we were waiting outside the school for the trolleys that had been arranged to drive us downtown, the principal ran up and started yelling:
"Where do you think you're going?"
"What do you mean, where?" answered Lenka. "To the parade in honor of the day for the international solidarity of workers."
She said this in a serious voice, like she was reciting a poem about communism.
Everyone around us cracked up laughing. The principal just waved us off.
As soon as the trolley arrived downtown, Lenka and I took off from the school group and went to look for her brother. He was in the parade section for his institute. He had long hair and so did everybody with him, and they were all wearing leather jackets and jeans. They immediately stood out from all the hicks and their brightly colored signs and banners. We went into the courtyard with them and drank port there.
I didn't get much of what Lenka's brother and his friends were talking about, but this didn't matter to me. The only thing that mattered was that I looked cool. Sitting with them I didn't feel embarrassed. During the demonstration Lenka spiked my hair with hairspray, and did the same with her own hair. I had already cut the arms off my old jeans jacket and wrote on the back with white window lacquer: "Sex Pistols" and "Fuck Off". This was pretty much the worst thing you could say to somebody in English, Lenka had explained to me.
We said goodbye and took off from Lenka's brother and his friends and went to look for our school group. Somewhere along the way we ran into three short short-haired bullies.
"Hey, kid, what's with you?" one shouted at us. "Why do you look like that? Get your ass over here."
He grabbed me by the collar and started dragging me away.
"Get your fucking hands off him," Lenka said to him. "Or else you'll get the shit beat out of you."
"By who, slut?"
"By my brother and by his friends. They study at the polytechnic and they're one section over. Can we go now, huh?"
"And who does he know there?"
"He knows Zveroboy, and Rizhy. And lots of other people."
The bully put me down.
"Well, you can go for now, but be ready if I see you again. You'd better get a normal haircut and not mess with this shit. I'd have better things to say about you."
We went back to our school section. The principal ran right over to us.
"Kids, you'd better move along. You can't come with us."
"Why not?" I asked him.
The principal went psycho on me.
"I can't believe you aren't ashamed to disgrace the school like this! So much for your good record. This is all Kolpakova, this is her influence on you. And furthermore, I can smell wine on you... Get away from our group! I want you out of my sight, and I'll be having a serious conversation with your mother."
We turned around and took off.
The whole holiday I hung out with Lenka at her place. Her parents were away at their dacha, and nobody bothered us. We drank a bunch of beer that her dad had stashed and smoked up all his cigarettes.
"Whatever, they know I drink and smoke," Lenka told me. "It's no big deal if a girl drinks and smokes. It doesn't mean the girl's a slut, you get it? But I won't make out with you. I don't like you like a guy. Well, I like you sort of, but not a whole lot."

The day after the holiday Lenka didn't show up at school. I didn't know what was wrong, so I decided to go to her apartment after class. During geometry I was called in to see the principal. There in his office was my mom. She was crying. Right when I came up to her she slapped me in the face, then again, and again. I covered my face with my arms, and the principal pulled my mom away for some reason. I would have thought he'd be glad to see me getting beaten.
My mom sat on chair and started crying, and the principal sent the secretary to the bathroom to get her a glass of water.
"Your friend is finished here," he said to me. "She's been diagnosed with mental deviance. Earlier this morning they took her to the hospital."
I didn't believe this mental deviance thing. Lenka's parents long ago threatened to turn her in to the loony bin, and now they'd finally done it. I ran out of the office, out of the building and down the street to the bus stop.
At the bus stop where I had to transfer buses so I could go to the nut house, I saw the same bullies who had picked on us at the rally. They recognized me right away, and I didn't have time to hide.
"Look who's here," said the one who had grabbed me at the rally.
I started running, but realized right away that it was pointless - there were other people at the bus stop, and while they were there those guys wouldn't pick on me, and now I was in a worse mess...
They caught up with me in the courtyard near the dumpster and started hitting me. I fell in the mud and tried to cover my head and face with my arms. As they were beating me up I screamed:
"You all suck! Bitches, condom heads, faggots! I'll shit on you, I'm not afraid of you!"
They kicked me some more, shook me down for all my kopecks, and left.

The courtyard was empty, and the stench of something rotten was coming from the dumpster. I suddenly noticed that fresh leaves had appeared on the trees, and I thought about how there wasn't much left of school before vacation started. And now I'll go see Lenka in the hospital and say "hi."

Translated by Andrea Gregovich

This short story appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Issue #49, Winter 2011-2012