“Foma Pukhov is not gifted with sensitivity: he cut his boiled sausage on the coffin of his wife, starving because of the absence of the hostess.” After the burial of his wife, Pukhov goes to bed, having taken a nap. Someone is knocking at him loudly. The watchman of the office of the head of the distance brings a permit for cleaning the tracks from snow. At the station Puhov signs in the order – in those years, try not to sign! – and together with a brigade of workers servicing a snowplow, which pulls two locomotives, it is sent to clear the way for the Red Army echelons and armored trains from snow drifts. The front is at sixty versts.
On one of the snow blocks, the snowplow abruptly brakes, the workers fall, breaking their heads, the driver’s assistant breaks down to death. A mounted Cossack detachment surrounds the workers, ordering the delivery of locomotives and snow removal to the station occupied by the whites. The approaching red armored
train liberates the workers and shoots the Cossacks, who have got stuck in the snow.
At the station Liski workers rest for three days. On the wall of the barracks Pukhov reads an announcement about the recruitment of mechanics in the technical parts of the Southern Front. He offers his friend Zvorychnoye to go south, or else “there is nothing to do on the snow plowing – the spring is already blowing in the fly! The revolution will pass, but we will not have anything left!”. Zvorychny disagrees, wishing to leave his wife and son.
A week later, Pukhov and five other locksmiths go to Novorossiysk. The Reds equip three ships with an assault of five hundred men to the Crimea, to the rear of Wrangel. Pukhov sails on the steamer “Shan”, serving the steam engine. In a dark night, the assault forces pass the Kerch Strait, but because of the storm, the ships lose each other. The raging element does not allow the landing party to land on the Crimean shore. The Marines are forced to return to Novorossiysk.
The news of the capture of the Red Army by Simferopol comes. Pukhov spent four
months in Novorossiysk, working as a senior fitter at the coastal base of the Azov-Black Sea Shipping Company. He misses the lack of work: there are few steamships, and Pukhov is busy doing reports on the malfunction of their mechanisms. He often walks around the city, admiring nature, finding everything relevant and living in essence. Recalling his deceased wife, Pukhov feels his difference from nature and grieves, buried his face in the earth warmed by his breath, moistening it with rare, reluctant drops of tears.
He leaves Novorossiysk, but he does not go to the house, but to Baku, intending to reach his homeland along the shore of the Caspian and along the Volga. In Baku, Pukhov meets with the sailor Sharikov, who establishes the Caspian Shipping Company. Sharikov gives Pukhov a business trip to Tsaritsyn – to attract a qualified proletariat to Baku. In Tsaritsyn, Pukhov shows Sharikov’s mandate to some mechanic whom he meets at the plant’s office. He reads the mandate, smears his tongue and pastes it on the fence. Pukhov looks at the piece of paper and puts it on the head of the nail so that the wind does not tear it away. He goes to the station, takes a train and asks people where he is going. “And we know – where?” – Doubtfully pronounces the mild voice of an unseen person.