Ordinarily, under the Bolsheviks, beyond the Urals, the achievements of a hero worker were not celebrated by the energetic bashing of bongos. Yet this is precisely what happened with Babinsky. The teenage repair man’s record-breaking feats of repair were so wondrous, his proletarian heroics without parallel, that he was told he could devise his own ceremony.
“Bongos. Thousands of them!” grunted the lanky worker. His moustache was incipient and not yet the massive walrus it would later grow into.
Local Party bigwigs were disconcerted by his choice, but reasoned that if they pooh-poohed his desires they might well be carted off to camps, or even shot. So talismanic was Babinsky’s name, in that brief golden summer, he could have asked for anything. And so they set about obtaining thousands of sets of bongos and drilling the other workers in the rhythmic bashing of them. This was not without its difficulties, for beyond the Urals the average worker was too downtrodden and exhausted to put much vim into endless hours of bongo practice after a day’s drudgery in the factory.
The factory, a vast complex set within a vaster complex in an industrial island plopped in the middle of immense snow-bound nothingness, produced bolts and screws and tyres and spikes and washers, oh, all sorts of metal and rubber bits and pieces, and relied on an array of engines and machinery which was prone to clogging and collapse and jamming up and fracturing, and it was Babinsky, with his delicate fingers and his methodical brain and his familiarity with grease and his inhuman concentration, who fixed everything, sometimes before it was broken. He was a marvel, and the factory Soviet knew it, and so he was mollycoddled and lacked for nothing. If he wanted a bongo ceremony, he would have one.
There was surprisingly little resentment of Babinsky among his fellow workers. Often, those singled out for eminence by the Party were loathed, and muttered about behind their backs. It was not unknown for a model worker, shortly after the ceremony extolling his virtues, to suffer what looked like an accident, or to be denounced, or to have poison tipped in to his lunchpail. The teenage repair man, on the other hand, was regarded in the tradition of the Holy Innocent, or Holy Fool. His bongo choice seemed confirmation of this. Most hero workers opted for the standard ceremony with massed tractors and long speeches and a supper of unusually thick borscht.
Of course, there was nothing the least bit holy about Babinsky. Nor was he innocent, nor foolish. Inside his spindly frame beat a tarry black heart, and within his cranium throbbed the brain of a devil. To Babinsky’s inner ear, that throbbing sounded like the pounding of a thousand bongos, and it was that infernal din he wanted to recreate, in the world outside his head, at his ceremony.
And all unwittingly, because he was so magnificent a repair man, the Soviet authorities acquiesced. Was it the massed bashing of bongos on that golden summer evening that tipped Babinsky over the edge? To the teenager, it was as if he could make real the demonic pulsations in his head. Only two weeks later, he embarked upon the first of his rampages.
In years to come, there was much guilt among the workers who beat bongos for Babinsky. Intuitively, they knew, if the Party bigwigs did not, that they had helped unleash the repair man’s furies. Most of them never bashed bongos again, though a few of them had caught the bug, and formed underground beatnik clubs where bongos were bashed in caverns far away from the railway tracks. Even here, as they smoked exotic Tunisian black market cigarettes and preened their goatees, the bongoists told themselves they were trying to exorcise the evil of Babinsky. They would have been better occupied smashing rocks in Siberia.
The moral of the story is always to opt for the tractors and the speeches and the borscht, even if the borscht is thin and watery and akin to beetroot-based gruel.