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Authors: Evelyn Anthony

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BOOK: The Tamarind Seed
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‘I'd like to look at that seed again,' Judith said. ‘I won't be a minute.' Sverdlov let her go back alone; he waited in the small paved courtyard, eyes half closed against the glare.

He wondered if they had been followed to the museum, and whether any of the half a dozen visitors who wandered round were from the other side. It was being very skilfully done; even he with his experience, couldn't pick out a suspect in the hotel. He lit a cigarette while he waited. Women were erratic creatures; why should she have found the foolish legend of the slave and the tamarind seed so fascinating that she had to go and look at the exhibit a second time? Perhaps she thought it was romantic. He wished she would transfer a little of that romanticism to their relationship. He had been thinking of sex in terms of therapy. In the ten days he had spent with Judith Farrow, he had got no sex and there was very little time left. But the therapy had worked without it. He had begun to see clearly again. He had started to function at his right level of efficiency. There was a schizoid feeling about the life of lazy lotus eating, teasing the girl about the issues which divided one half of the world against the other, giving himself up to erotic fancies as they lay in the sun together. He hadn't wanted to know more than her name and what she was doing in America. She had told him one night she was a widow, and had no children. He hadn't questioned her beyond that. Now he was beginning to find the gaps unsatisfactory. He wanted to know about her past life; about the dead husband and why she was so determined not to be seduced. He smiled as he saw her come out of the museum and hurry towards him. ‘I wanted to make sure of the place,' she said. ‘Haywards Plantation, St. Peter's.'

‘And you are going to look for the tamarind tree—you really believe it exists?'

‘I don't know, but anyway, I'm going to look for it. I want one of those seeds—just to prove something to you!'

‘I am a Russian,' Sverdlov said. ‘We are the people who invented fairy tales.'

‘I know, like the existence of God,' Judith said. They were walking back to the Minimoke. ‘You said all that before.'

‘We have had a lot of dialectic disagreements,' he remarked. ‘And they haven't made a difference to us.' For a fraction of a second he thought of his wife; perhaps his heresy had conjured her ten thousand miles. ‘We've proved it's possible to co-exist.'

‘Maybe it's because we're on neutral ground,' she answered. Sverdlov put the key in the dashboard socket and turned it.

‘Too neutral,' he said. ‘But I am optimistic. I put my faith in the fire-eaters tonight.'

‘And what difference will they make?'

He switched on the engine and the little car jumped forward. ‘They will melt your heart,' he said. ‘Now we go to the harbour.'

He drank so much whisky that evening that for the first time he became a little drunk. The dinner was excellent; Judith had bought a culotte dress from an expensive boutique in Bridgetown, and the flaring pink colour suited her; people stared at them as they took their table. The setting was so exotic that they both decided it was funny. Palm trees fringed the floodlit dance floor, candles flickered in the storm glasses on each table, waiters in white monkey jackets and crimson cummerbunds weaved in and out, while a steel band thudded out Western pop music to an African beat. The wind had risen and the sea hammered at the sandy beach behind them. The moon was brighter than the artificial lighting.

It suddenly occurred to Judith, in the middle of the limbo dancing, that she could never have enjoyed such a place with Richard Paterson. He would have made her feel it was ridiculous. At that moment, he was difficult to visualise. She realised with a sense of guilt, that thinking about him didn't bring his face immediately into focus as it used to do. But she knew early on that she would have trouble with Sverdlov. He insisted on dancing in the old-fashioned way which allowed him to press her tight against him.

‘Look at them,' he whispered, mouth up to her ear, ‘look at these people, dancing with themselves. To us, in Russia, this is degenerate. Don't pull away from me, it's not polite.' And she felt him laughing.

He grabbed her as soon as they started to walk to the car. He pushed her backwards off the ill-lit pathway between the bungalows, till she was up against a tree. He gave her no time to protest or fight him off. He kissed her until he had to stop for breath; his weight was leaning against her.

‘Why do you keep your mouth shut?' he said. ‘You like me; I can feel it. Are you afraid to make love?'

‘Yes.' She didn't move or try to pull his hands away. ‘Yes, I am afraid. I've just had one miserable, bloody awful love affair. And I'm not going to start another one with you. Please don't do this. Take me back to the car.'

He didn't answer; he went on holding her, looking down at her face with an expression she couldn't understand. Then he bent his head and kissed her lips; this time he made no attempt to force them open.

‘We will go home and you will tell me about it.'

‘No,' she said. ‘No, I don't want to talk about it.'

‘You will,' Sverdlov said. ‘I can always make people tell me what I want to know. I want to know about you. Come, the car is over there.'

As they walked back, he put his arm round her.

‘You understand that the decision is not being made for you. You have a right to refuse our advice. Isn't that so?'

Gregory Tomarov looked at his companion for confirmation. Both men nodded together. The woman standing in front of them said nothing. The interview had begun informally; they had made an appointment to see her on her return from the clinic. She had received them with her usual coolness and composure, offered them a choice of tea or vodka, and passed round a plate of little cakes. Tomarov was an old friend of her father's; he had served under Marshal Timoshenko with him, and when she married Feodor Sverdlov, he had been one of their witnesses at the People's Wedding Palace. He could say, without exaggeration, that he had known her since she was born and regarded her as an adopted daughter. At the time, Sverdlov had been a good match. Tomarov had their wedding photograph on his desk at home. Elena Maximova in a long skirted dress with a veiled hat and a corsage of flowers pinned high on one shoulder. Sverdlov was in uniform. He was not smiling in the picture and the twisted mouth made him look grim.

‘You must believe me,' Tomarov said. ‘I loved your father; I wouldn't exaggerate this, or lie to you. I am asking you to do what we suggest.'

‘It is for your own good, Dr. Sverdlova,' the second man spoke up. It was like the old days after the war. Tomarov had brought him along as a witness.

‘I'm not concerned with what is good for me.' She had a deep voice; it sounded more striking because her appearance was slight and feminine. She had black hair and eyes, with the faint sallowness of Mongolian ancestry. ‘I don't think the individual's happiness is the important thing to be considered. What is important is what you've told me about my husband. And that's why I'm hesitating.' She turned to Tomarov. ‘I find it so difficult to accept,' she said. ‘I can't believe it of him.'

‘Nor could I, at first. He was the last man to be corrupted. He had such a good record. He was the best officer we had in Hungary. He never wavered, he never questioned. But now—three years in America, and he has changed. If he came home now, Elena, you wouldn't recognise him. You wouldn't want to live with him.'

‘It was my mistake,' she said. ‘He wanted me to go to America; I couldn't leave my work, I didn't want to live among Capitalists. He needed someone to support him.'

‘If he can't remain true to his ideals without his wife to keep him loyal, he's never to be trusted,' the second man said. His name was Roskovsky; he had worked with Tomarov for thirty years. Together they were among the few originals who had survived into the present political régime. And like all such survivors they were seeing the wheel turn full circle.

‘He's marked, Elena,' Tomarov said. ‘You must get rid of him or you will be suspected too. That is the truth. File for divorce before he is recalled.'

‘Will you have some more tea?' Both shook their heads. Tomarov was pleading with her, out of friendship for her family, regard for her future, and because her rejection of her husband would strengthen the case which was being built up against him. Elena Sverdlova was one of the most eminent pediatric specialists in Moscow. She was known as the daughter of a man who had been considered great in Stalin's hierarchy; for some years this had not reflected credit on her. Now, with the reversal of the liberal trends and the removal of the moderates Brezhnev and Podgorny from their offices, Party members like Elena Maximova Sverdlova were regaining their prestige. Tomarov had always admired her. She was her father's daughter. Single minded, dedicated, cerebral. A woman who specialised in treating children, but refused to become pregnant because it would limit her work. Women of her calibre had been the inspiration of the Revolution. ‘Comrades,' she said, ‘I need a little time to think about what you have told me. If you will leave me alone now, I shall make up my mind by tomorrow. Thank you for coming.'

She shook hands with Roskovsky, and kissed Tomarov's cheek. When they had gone, she cleared away the samovar and the crockery, shook out the cushions and emptied the ashtray of their cigarettes. She knew the effects tobacco had on general health, and she had never smoked. In spite of everything she did to discourage him, Sverdlov had persisted in the habit. The last time she had seen him, he had smoked a cigarette in their bed, immediately after they had made love. She remembered it with anger. He had been her husband for ten years; in private he had never conformed in the way that she thought he should. Thinking back, admitting the clarity of hindsight, she could see that Tomarov must be right. As a young man Sverdlov appeared as dedicated to the cause of Soviet Socialism as she was; only when she lived with him did the latent cynicism show itself. It had distressed her; she had argued and rebuked him, albeit gently, using only reason, as befitted rational human beings in a state of disagreement. His reaction had been to laugh at her, and try to take her clothes off.

He had a mind which enquired into everything; he maintained that this quality gave him pre-eminence in his job. What disturbed Elena was the extent to which he questioned things which should have been accepted automatically. His career was spectacular; he was ambitious and without scruple, but his motives lacked the clear, unselfish partisanship which was the rule by which his wife ordered her existence. She practised medicine in one of the most emotional treacherous fields open to a woman. She worked with children. Sick, incurable, diseased, retarded children; she gave her skill equally without allowing personal preference or maternal instinct to influence her actions. She saved life, and at other times, deliberately, she took it. She had never behaved irrationally; she met her husband's reasonable demands. His desire to have children and for her to accompany him to America and give up the clinic were not reasonable, and she refused them. Now, according to what her old friend Tomarov said, he had gone soft. The man who had gone into Hungary to help quell the uprising had become an advocate of compromise with the West; he was making China the excuse for advocating genuine co-existence with the Capitalist world. Tomarov had explained that for two years General Golitsyn had seen him working to these ends, openly undermining morale in his section in the Embassy and exerting the same pernicious influence in Russian political circles. And only because the insidious liberal attitudes at home had been suppressed and their supporters removed, had the old General dared report back and denounce his superior.

Sverdlov had written to her regularly when he took up his appointment; she had replied with letters full of news about her work, of enquiries for friends in their Embassy, and enthusiastic descriptions of events in Moscow. She had never asked about America; she didn't want to hear anything which might reflect to its credit, and she knew Sverdlov was irresponsible enough to say it, just to irritate her. His work in Washington could not be discussed. She had missed him at first; they had been in love, and in many ways he was a strong man whom she admired. He was also a skilful lover; it was only later on that Elena realised how much she had resented that skill and the degree of dominance he had achieved over her because of it. She had felt degraded. Marriage was a social and sexual partnership which was sensibly dissolved as soon as one or both of the partners were no longer satisfied. His assumption of supremacy in this side of their relationship had surprised and offended her. He had threatened her independence; instinctively she had sensed this and resisted. Nothing would persuade her to give up her clinical work, or to limit her scope by children which she didn't want. He had no right to ask a free and equal partner to submit to the inhibiting consequences of what was done to her in bed. Elena had let him go to Washington, and discovered after a few months of readjustment that she was happier alone. But even so, Tomarov's suggestion of divorce had shocked her. Her husband was marked. There was no mistake about the warning. He was out of favour and under grave suspicion. He would be recalled, and Elena knew exactly what would follow. Sverdlov would be interrogated and put on trial.

She faced that possibility, keeping calm and rational, refusing sentiment a voice in the discussion in her mind. He had turned against his Party and his people. Otherwise he wouldn't be suspected. There were no doubts in Elena's reasoning process. The State was never wrong. If Feodor was not trusted, then he was no longer trustworthy. And she was free of any obligation to support him. To do so would be to compound his treason. Her own motives would become suspect; she could be deprived of her job, cast out into the wilderness inhabited by unreliables, if she was not actually arrested and questioned in conjunction with her husband. Fear did not influence her; in defence of her political ideals, Elena Maximova would have faced prison and even death without hesitating. Sverdlov had gone over to the enemy. That was sufficient reason for dissociating herself as publicly as possible. There was a photograph on the centre table in the sitting room. It was the same as the one Tomarov kept at home; a full-length picture of them on their wedding day. Elena picked it up, removed the print from its painted wooden frame, and tore it up. The following morning Gregory Tomarov presented himself at the office of Major-General Ivanovsky at the Headquarters of the KGB in Dzershinsky Square. The case against Feodor Sverdlov was proceeding satisfactorily and the next step could be taken. There would be no complications with the Maximov family; his wife was applying for an immediate divorce.

BOOK: The Tamarind Seed
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