One sultry summer night, in an out-of-the-way alley on the outskirts of the town, I saw a strange sight. A woman, standing in the middle of an enormous puddle, was stamping her feet, splashing the mud as little boys doshe was stamping and singing a bawdy song in a nasal voice.
During the day a storm had swept mightily over the town. The heavy downpour had turned the clayey earth of the alley into mud. The puddle was deep. The woman was almost up to her knees in it. To judge by her voice, the singer was drunk. If, tired with dancing, she had dropped, she might easily have drowned in the liquid mud.
I pulled up my high boots, got into the puddle, grabbed her by the arms and dragged her to a dry spot. At first, apparently, she was scared. She followed me obediently, without a word. But then with a vigorous movement of her whole body she wrenched her right arm free, struck me on the chest, and screamed: Help!
Then she resolutely made for the puddle again, dragging me with her.
You devil! she mumbled, I wont go! Ill get along without you. You get on without me. He-elp!
The night watchman emerged from the darkness, stopped five steps away from us and asked in a surly tone:
Whos making that racket there?
I told him that I was afraid the woman would drown in the mud, and that I wanted to pull her out. The watchman looked closely at the drunken woman, spat noisily, and commanded:
Mashka, come on out.
And Im telling you, come on out!
I wont do it.
Ill give you a beating, you slut! the watchman promised her without enmity, and turned to me affably. She lives around hereshe picks oakum for a living. Mashkas her name. Got a smoke?
We lit cigarettes. The woman was bravely striding through the puddle, shouting now and then:
Bosses! Im my own boss! Ill take a bath here, if I want to.
Ill give you a bath! the watchmana sturdy, bearded old manwarned her. Thats the way she carries on almost every night, and she has a crippled son at home.
Does she live far from here?
She ought to be shot, said the watchman, without answering me.
She ought to be taken home, I suggested.
The watchman sniggered in his beard, held his cigarette up to my face, and clumped away on the soggy path.
Take her, but look at her mug first.
Meanwhile the woman sat down in the mud, paddling it with her hands, and squawked fiercely in a nasal voice:
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