Thursday, 3 December 2009
A new story of mine - 'A Gigantic Leap' is featured in Midnight Street magazine #13. It can be obtained at:
The story begins:
I remember the date well - June 30, 1971 – as that was when my world changed forever.
A little less than a month earlier, I, Kolya Volkov, had been one of the proudest children in the Soviet Union. Anxious but proud. My father, Vladislav Volkov, was a cosmonaut. Now, it is hard to comprehend the primitive nature of our nation’s space-craft in those days. As my father joked once over dinner, ‘we went into space by the seat of our pants!’ He was a charming handsome man with gentle features, small eyes and dark hair.
An indescribable mixture of emotions ran through me when my mother and I learned that the designated crew for Soyuz 11 had to step down as one of them had suspected tuberculosis. My father, with Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev, were the stand-by crew. Four days before the launch, they took over the mission.
He was confident and never doubted his ability as the flight engineer. After all, this wasn’t his first journey into space as he’d been there before in Soyuz 7.
The preceding mission, in Soyuz 10, had been a failure as they had been unable to dock with Salyut 1, the world’s first space station. Now that honour rested with Soyuz 11 and my father.
My mother and I were transfixed as we watched from the secure buildings of Baikonur Cosmodrome. She nervously twisted her lace-bordered cotton handkerchief with one hand, a habit I had observed more than once. She had a box of these handkerchiefs and I recalled her saying in exasperation, ‘My grandmother gave them to me. She laughed at what she called our silly village superstitions. Remember, Kolya, you never give handkerchiefs or knifes as a gift.’
There were other odd things she inculcated into me, such as never celebrating a birthday early – as if you would; and never show your newborn baby to a stranger until it’s forty days old. (I abided by that with my little baby Nessa, foolish man that I am.)
My mother gripped my arm tightly with her free hand as the blast off turned our vision red and yellow. I felt my insides surging with joy and immense pride as the spectacular flame rose into the sky on that day on June 6. D-Day, they call it in the West. Was that for ‘Doom’, ‘Destiny’ or something else? I’m sure I knew but now I forget.
The day following the launch, Soyuz 11 successfully docked with Salyut 1. How the cheers exploded around the mission planning centre. I know now that you must grasp those moments of body-thrumming pleasure because they are rare. The effusive joy was short-lived as bad news came into the centre and within seconds everyone’s face looked downcast.