By Leda Garina
Illustrator – Daria Zarichnaya

Translated by Alexandra Malahova
The Duel
It happened at school. This school was on Main Street. Or was it High Street? Or even New Street. Who cares. What matters is that Katya from Class 3B was head over heels for her classmate Oleg. Oleg sat in the first row by the window. The sky and the clouds shone in his blue eyes. He had blonde – almost white – hair with a long fringe. And his shirt collar was usually a little creased. When Katya looked at him from her desk in the middle of the front row, she forgot how to breathe and what lesson she was in. When the bell rang and everyone sprang out of their seats, Katya would pretend not to notice him so that he would not get any ideas and a reason to stick his nose up. To avoid raising any suspicions, she would sometimes allow herself to bash him on the head with her school bag. In that case, she would pull an evil grin, run back to her desk and resort to lengthy fantasies, in which she imagined herself at the helm, steering her ship into the night sea. Or becoming world champion in biathlon. Or bashing him one more time to get him to notice how cool she is.

But her plans went south one morning when before the start of class, their teacher Svyatoslav Igorevich opened the door to let in and introduce a new girl. "This is Masha", he said, "she's new and she will sit… in the free seat over there, next to Oleg. Take your seat, Masha." Katya's heart sank, but for the rest of the day she tried to calm down by telling herself that Masha is merely a girl in year three, whereas she is almost a sea captain and very nearly world champion in freestyle wrestling. If school-bag fights were to become a new Olympic discipline, Katya would leave no survivors. Suddenly, when the last bell rang and everyone ran downstairs , the new girl Masha came up to Katya:

"Hey, could you tell me anything about this boy Oleg by any chance? You're the head girl, after all," she said.

"Like what?" asked Katya.

"Well, everything. Does he have a girlfriend? His lashes, his glance make me feel happy I got transferred to your school." said Masha.

Katya's heart skipped a beat.

"No. I mean, yes. I mean, no. I'm his girlfriend! Not yet, but will be. Because I'm the head girl and future world champion in freestyle wrestling. And you're just an annoying sleazebag! Coming to a new class and wanting to snatch our boys? Who do you think you are?" she asked.

­"Who am I?" Masha went red. "I won the district drawing competition. My mum drives a car and I have a 200-piece electronic construction kit. I can assemble a radio set out of it. And who are you, eh? If you insist on standing in my way, then I'm challenging you to a duel. Tomorrow, at the bottom of the football pitch by the garages!"

The girls did not notice their classmates surrounding them.

"Don't forget to throw down a glove, then," laughed Katya's friend Nina.

"I would, but I don't have any on me today," Masha did not lose her wits, "and if I did, I wouldn't wanna get them dirty because of her, anyway."

She turned around and went outside, thinking that getting beaten by Katya the next day would not only mean losing any chance with Oleg, but everyone's respect as well. To avoid that, she spent the entire day and night doing push-ups, refreshing her kung fu, watching women's fencing matches on YouTube and even tried the Cruciatus curse on her dolls several times. Katya arranged Nina and Svyatoslav Igorevich to be her seconds. She planked on her fists from 5 pm till 9 pm and got her older brother to give her his protein cocktail to top that up.

The entire 3B slept badly that night. Some dreamt of princess Kitana, some – of Daenerys Targaryen burning everyone around her, and some others – of failing their term maths test. So during the first class, all students had red eyes. Except for Oleg – his mum had picked him up early the day before and he was oblivious to what had happened.

It was with a great impatience that the class waited out the last period. Some got so excited as to share the news with girls from other classes, and they told their boys, so at 2 pm all of year three was by the garages. Svyatoslav Igorevich brought a roll of red-and-white ribbon to mark the battle area, and Nina got the PE teachers to spare a whistle for the occasion.

Katya arrived first. She had put on her red tracksuit and a black hat to keep her hair from getting in her eyes. Masha came wearing a jumper and sports trousers. To scare the opponent, she kicked off with performing a cartwheel and then splits right into the puddle of mud. Then she looked around, and realizing that Oleg was not in the crowd and there was no point in showing off, moved towards Katya.

"Girls," started Svyatoslav Igorevich, "according to the rules of the duel, I have to suggest that you try and settle this through peaceful negotiations. Also according to the rules I should offer you pistols, but I'd be fired in that case. Maybe we could talk the conflict through, what do you say?"

The crowd replied with angry whistling. "Oleg or death!" yelled somebody.

"Oleg, then!" cried out Katya and sent her first into Masha's jaw. Masha dodged it, so Katya's fist only slightly touched her. The battle got heated. The girls grabbed each other and fell into the mud. Year three started rummaging through their bags for knives to supply them to the fighters, should such need arise. Svyatoslav Igorevich took a gun from his jacket's inside pocket. But suddenly they saw Yana Valeryevna, the head of out-of-school activities, coming towards them.

"Put your knives away. Now!" she shouted from afar, "Or I'll make you stay and scrub the dining hall until it shines. What's the matter with you?" Pushing through disappointed children, she headed straight to the ribbon border of the battlefield. "Don't you know that duels require approval from the school administration and parents' permission?" She pulled one of the girls away and put her on her feet. "Who are you?" She took out her handkerchief and wiped the dirt from the girl's face. "Masha Altufyeva, right. You only started the day before yesterday. Do you have a permit?"

"Freedom requires no permit," replied Masha boldly and weaselled out of the teacher's hands. Yana Valeryevna was already busy lifting Katya up.

"Where's your shame, Katya?" Yana Valeryevna was upset. "You're a straight-A student! You're the hope of this school. Why would you get yourself dirty like a pig?"

"They're fighting for a boy's attention, you see," said Svyatoslav Igorevich.

"A boy? It will probably be Oleg. Well, I see now, girls. But I still can't help you. Without your parents' and the head teacher's permission you won't get a duel in a million years. Put your gun away, Svyatoslav Igorevich."

"It's only a signal gun," said Svyatoslav Igorevich and fired a green flare into the air. The pupils looked at the green flare fading in the sky and started heading home. Katya and Masha both left with their eyebrows knitted together, thinking that their parents would never give their permission for the duel: after all, it could turn into a knife fight. And serious injures meant kissing goodbye to drawing and sailing.

"You got me good there," said Masha, rubbing her jaw.

"So did you. It still hurts to walk," replied Katya.

"I can carry your bag, if you want. I need you alive so that I can beat you up properly one of these days," said Masha.

"Here you go," said Katya and gave Masha her bag, "but you won't get Oleg as easily. Just for your information, a patchwork family is not an option for me. You just try to get him first!"

They went silent and parted their ways at a zebra crossing.

The next morning was stressful. Svyatoslav Igorevich was instructed by the school administration to put Oleg and Masha at separate desks, which he did. During the second class, there was a sudden knock on the door, after which it swung open. It was some girls from year four peeking into the room and staring at Oleg, giggling.

"That's him, that's him," they whispered.

"Close the door, girls," said the teacher.

The girls left.

The same happened during the third class. It was year six this time. In the middle of the fifth class, the door burst open without a knock followed by a wooden horse rolling into the classroom. There were eight girls' shoes sticking out from under its belly.

"He's a looker, isn't he?" said a voice from inside the horse.

"Let's just grab him and run," suggested another voice, "This year three babies will never find him."

Svyatoslav Igorevich went purple.

"Step out of the horse and then out of the classroom. Now! What a mess. What kind of example are you setting? Where did you get all the props? Do they have a whole horse in the history classroom?"

"Shoot, the teacher's here," hissed the horse belly, "Let's get outta here. Neigh!"

The horse started retreating, missed the door, hit the doorframe a couple of times with its croup on the way, and finally disappeared without closing the door.

"The lesson's over," said the teacher, "I can't take anyone else coming in here today. Oleg, please tell your mum I need to see her to discuss something urgently."

Then came the weekend. To no avail both Katya and Masha tried to persuade their parents to give them official permission to the duel, saying that otherwise some unknown persons in a horse will steal the only decent boy in the class. Their parents were uncompromising. They insisted that at the age of ten education is much more important than a happy marriage.

The Class 3B girls organized a get-together in the toilet on their floor and held the door shut.

Nina started:

"Well, Katya. Masha. I understand you're both fighting for your happiness. However, I believe our class' reputation is more important. At the moment, we're receiving threats from other girls from year three, from older pupils, even from the senior years. Therefore, we should provide Oleg a convoy, otherwise there will be nobody left to fight for." Somebody started jerking the door from the outside.

"Did you bring Balrog?" asked Alisa, who was holding the door.

"No, we're from year one, we just need to wee. We don't want Oleg," said the voice on the other side of the door.

"Alright", said Nina, "let's meet here during the next break and discuss the details."

The next break never happened. Right after the bell rung and even before Svyatoslav Igorevich had a chance to tell the students what maths topics they were going to study, a large stone flew through the window, breaking it and spraying the teacher's table with glass shards.

"No, no! Stay where you are!" commanded the teacher, but to no effect – the girls and boys had already gathered at the windows staring down.

Beneath the windows they saw a squadron of girls from another school. The one on Old Street. Or was it Long Street? There were about five hundred of them, including girls from year one with large bows in their hair, year three girls with yo-yos, girls from year six with baseball bats, and year seven girls with brass knuckles.

One of the senior students had a cannon on her shoulder. A girl in a leather jacket came to the front and said into the loud hailer:

"Students of Main street school! Surrender!" 3B heard windows swing open at ever floor. "We don't want any blood. All we're here for is Oleg from Class 3B. Show him to us, by the way. We need to make sure he's as good he's said to be. If you fail to surrender him, prepare yourself for a fierce battle."

Suddenly, year three heard a loud noise behind them – Yana Valeryevna stormed into the classroom, her face distorted with anger, combat lines painted on it with mascara. She too had a loud hailer in her hands.

She grabbed Oleg by the shoulder and pushed him towards the window:

"Give you Oleg? Fat chance of that! We will fight together for the honour of our school. Even the boys! Even the teachers! And if you resist, we will summon the parents' council. Look here: this is Oleg Bystritskiy. And there's no way you ever get him!" She turned around and faced the class: "Svyatoslav Igorevich, do you have anything to throw at them?"

Svyatoslav Igorevich, whose leisure-time passion was calligraphy, silently gave her an antique ink vial. Yana Valeryevna flung it down with relish: "See you in ten minutes on the football pitch in battle formation. And if you so much as dream of attacking early, we will complain to the School Board!" she shouted to the enemy on the ground.

Doors were slamming. Pupils were being released from classes. The school radio announced the upcoming battle. Pupils were looking for any weapons they could find – rulers, compasses, heavy textbooks, even old wooden protractors displayed above the blackboard. Everything was made use of. Boys also wanted to join in, but they were convinced to stick to the spectators' stalls to make sure it was an equal fight. Yana Valeryevna put Oleg in the front row. The head teacher took the seat to the right of him, Svyatoslav Igorevich to the left – all to make sure the boy did not get snatched.

Girls started forming lines: our school on the right, the opponents – on the left. Year one were virtually unarmed. They were shifting from one foot to the other, struggling to understand what it was that they wanted more – defending the school's honour or going to the bathroom. Older, more committed pupils hushed them. The year three girls rolled up their sleeves and looked fierce. Everyone above year five was getting ready to kill. Suddenly, a white handkerchief flew up above the rows of Class 3B. Everyone backed off in astonishment. Katya took off her hat and came forward:

"According to the rules of the duel, we must consider the option of resolving the issue through peaceful negotiations. I shall not suggest that, however. I love Oleg. One day I will become master of sports in rugby and world champion in archery and will be able to prove my love. And I want to defend my school's honour, so that I can take my classmates and teachers sailing the seas. But it seems we've forgotten about human rights along the way. I mean, nobody has asked Oleg what he wants. Does he want to be with the girls of our school or yours? It may be that he doesn't want anything at all. What do you think we should do, Oleg?"

This astounding revelation took everyone aback. Every member of the two opposing girls' armies, teachers, and boys turned to the boy.

Masha's jaw dropped.

"Yuck," said Nina.
Oleg was not looking at the field. While the two schools were preparing to fight to the death, he had been busy inspecting the contents of his nose. Right at the moment when everyone turned around and looked at him, he had just finished observing a strangely-shaped bogey and threw it in his mouth.

"Oleg eats bogeys!" screamed a girl from year one in the enemy school.

The armies started moving, averting their eyes uneasily. Young and teenage girls, and their teachers started approaching their opponents, their brass knuckles and baseball bats lowered, to shake each other's hands and retreat back to their block. The senior student gave Yana Valeryevna her cannon. The PE teacher gave a year one girl her whistle. In silence, they went back to their schools.

Katya was feeling pretty rubbish inside. She had been ready to die, or to lose the battle of love, but this disappointment was something she was not prepared for. It felt like somebody was scratching a ceramic plate with a brick inside of her. Or as if somebody had died in her mouth.

Svyatoslav Igorevich wiped his glasses.

"Well, we will have our maths class now. Please go to the blackboard, Gleb," said the teacher.

Gleb got up and went up the aisle. He had black hair and grey eyes. And when he smiled, he had dimples in his cheeks so lovely that many couldn't take their eyes of him in such moments. Katya looked at Gleb and finally took a deep breath. She wanted to fly to outer space and win a title in chess. And also organize an international portrait exhibition together with Masha. And, of course, reach the North Pole and cross the Pacific Ocean.

Gleb was turning a piece of chalk around in his hands and smiling. In his free time, he played the trumpet.

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