The hero is studying in a special school for mentally retarded children. But his illness differs from the state in which most of his classmates live. Unlike them, he does not hang cats on the fire escape, does not behave stupidly and wildly, does not spit on anyone in the face at big flips and does not pee in his pocket. The hero has, according to the teacher of literature, nicknamed Vodka, selective memory: he remembers only that which affects his imagination, and therefore lives as he wants, and not as others want from him. His ideas about reality and reality as such are constantly mixed, poured into each other.
The hero believes that his illness is hereditary, which he inherited from his deceased grandmother. She often lost her memory when she looked at something beautiful. The hero lives for a long time in the country with his parents, and the beauty of nature surrounds him constantly. The attending physician, Dr. Zauze, even advises him not to go out of town to not aggravate the disease, but the hero can not live without beauty.
The most serious manifestation of his illness is a split personality, a constant dialogue with “the other.” He feels the relativity of time, can not decompose life into “yesterday”, “today”, “tomorrow” – as well as at all can not decompose life into elements, destroy it, analyzing it. Sometimes he feels completely dissolving in the surroundings, and Dr. Zauze explains that this is also a manifestation of his illness.
The director of the special school Perillo introduces a humiliating “slippery system”: each student must bring slippers in a sack, in which it should be indicated in large letters that he is studying at a school for the feeble-minded. And the favorite teacher of the hero, geographer Pavel Petrovich Norway, often goes without shoes at all – at least in the country where he lives near the hero. Norway’s clothes are stiffened by solid clothes, familiar to normal people. When he stands barefoot on the platform of an electric train, it seems that he is hovering above the scratched boards and spittle of various merits.
The hero wants to become as honest as Norway – “Paul, he’s Saul.” Norway calls him a young friend, a pupil and a friend, talks about the Windbreaker and laughs at the book of some Soviet classic, which gave the hero his father, the prosecutor. Instead of this, Norway gives him another book, and the hero immediately remembers the words from it: “And for us, it’s all for Christ’s sake, our light, to suffer.” Norway says that in everything: in the bitter fountains of folk wisdom, in sweet speeches and speeches, in the ashes of outcasts and in the fear of the proxies, in waggish sums and in Judah’s sums, in war and peace, in the haze and in the mourning, in shame and suffering, in darkness and light, in hatred and pity, in life and beyond it – in all this there is something, maybe a little, but there is. The prosecutor’s father is furious with this stupid nonsense.
The hero is in love with the thirty-year-old botanist teacher Vetu Akatou. Her father, academician Akatov, was... once arrested for alien ideas in biology, then released after much harassment and now also lives in the countryside. The hero dreams about how to finish school, quickly learns to be an engineer and marries Vete, and at the same time realizes the impracticability of these dreams. Veta, like a woman, remains a mystery to him. From Norway, he knows that a relationship with a woman is something completely different from what cynical inscriptions in the school toilet say about them.
The director, instigated by the head teacher Sheina Trachtenberg-Tinbergen, dismissed Norway from work for sedition. The hero tries to protest, but Perillo threatens to send him to the hospital. During his last lesson, saying goodbye to his pupils, Norway says that he is not afraid of being fired, but it painfully painful to part with them, girls and boys of a grand era of engineering and literary attempts, with Those Who Come and go, taking with them the great right to judge without being judged. Instead of a will, he tells them a story about Carpenter in the desert. This carpenter really wanted to work – to build a house, a boat, a carousel or a swing. But in the desert there were no nails, no boards. One day people came to the desert, who promised the carpenter and nails, and boards, if he would help them drive the nails into the hands of the crucified person on the cross. The carpenter hesitated for a long time, but nevertheless agreed, because he really wanted to get everything he needed for his favorite work, not to die from idleness. Having received the promised, the carpenter worked hard and worked with pleasure. The crucified, dying man once called him and said that he himself was a carpenter, and also agreed to drive a few nails into the hands of the crucified… “Have you not yet realized that there is no difference between us that you and I are the same person, did not you realize that on the cross you created in the name of your high carpentry, you crucified yourself and, when you were crucified, you yourself hammered nails. “
Soon Norway is dying. In the coffin they put him in an uncomfortable, solid clothing bought in a fold.
The hero finishes school and is forced to plunge into life, where crowds of clever men are rushing to power, women, cars, engineering degrees. He tells that he was sharpening pencils in the prosecutor’s office with his father, then he was a janitor at the Ministry of Anxiety, then – an apprentice in the studio of Leonardo in the moat of the Milan fortress. Once Leonardo asked what a face should look like on a woman’s portrait, and the hero replied: this must be the face of Veta Akatova. Then he worked as a controller, conductor, coupler, carrier on the river… And everywhere he felt like a brave truth-seeker, the heir of Saul.
The author has to interrupt the hero: he ran out of paper. “Having fun chatting and counting pocket trifles, slapping each other on the shoulder and whistling stupid songs, we go out on a thousand-foot street and miraculously turn into passers-by.”