As the day draws on, the sun loses its unbearable brightness and stops scorching mercilessly, turning down the heat to the pleasant, mild warmth, there comes the time to prepare for the night. Although there is a feeling that it’s hours till sunset, it is misleading. The sun goes down fast in the mountains. And dusk falls much faster than on flat terrain. Therefore, having gone a little bit off the route, they decided to make camp for the night. A brook was murmuring welcomingly in the cozy and quiet valley between two mountains, inviting the tired travelers to have a rest and enjoy its hospitality.
“Phew! We can rest at last,” sighed the girls tiredly, throwing the huge backpacks off their slender shoulders.
“That’s okay,” Semyonych, the leader of the expedition, cheered them up, “only the first time is difficult. And after a while you get used to it and begin to enjoy. You will start longing for hiking, for the wild, you’ll be really hooked on all that. Okay, ladies, take out the eatables. Here is a fallen tree. Break off some branches and make a fire. And I’ll go get some logs.”
The girls set to work. The men began to put up the tents.
“Oh, yes,” agreed his wife, a beautiful stately woman, “when he went off alone, without me, I always thought, ‘Why on earth would he need to go there, in those mountains? Will he come back from there alive?’ I worried about him a lot.”
“But why so?” wondered the young girl named Kristina.
“Oh, he would always tell me these stories,” she waved away.
“What kind of stories? Tell us!” chirped the girls in unison.
“Different ones. Here’s one of them. It happened in the Caucasus. One day they were camping. The night came. And in the morning they had some uninvited guests.”
“Oh, what guests, I wonder,” said Vera.
“So, listen to me. It happened in the Soviet times. While they were sleeping in the tent in the morning they heard the patter of hoofs. My husband thought, ‘Must be just a dream.’ But then he heard the patter coming nearer. When it stopped right outside the tent, he heard somebody beat it with a whip. ‘What the hell?’ thought my husband. ‘What’s the matter? Who’s come to see us?’ And suddenly someone asked in broken Russian, ‘Any men here?’ There was not a word. “Hey, men, OUT YOU COME!” And they were sleeping with only their swimming trunks on. No answer. And again another shout, ‘Man! OUT YOU COME!’ And since there was no one else who dared call themselves so, my husband upped and came out to them. It snowed that night. The frost was refreshing. The sun was shining right in the face. And he was wearing only his swimming trunks, barefoot and unarmed. He came out for a ‘talk’. And there were seven of them. And the jigits had a sawn-off shotgun each. Plus a saber on the belt. So he was standing and looking at them, thinking feverishly, ‘What the hell am I supposed to do? What do they want from us?’ One of them waved the whip at him. He said he was ready to pounce on him at once with his bare hands, with the outburst of anger. But all of a sudden the intruders were gone in a split second. My husband was just standing not understanding what had happened. Then he heard the roar of engines. It turned out that there were several GAZ-66 trucks coming. Ф geological party arrived very timely, so the hotheads went away while the going was good. He sighed with relief. The geologists got out of the trucks, laughing, ‘Why did you come out naked?’ And he was standing, unable to utter a word.”
“Oh, dear!” the mouths of the young listeners fell open. “But what dis they want?”
“What do you think?” parried Valentina. “Any ideas?”
The girls fell silent, thinking. Then, all at once, they grew pale.
“Oh, dear!” they exchanged glances.
“Yeah! That’s the kind of ‘stories’ that can happen. I said to him, ‘Did you have to show hackles?! You were lucky it worked out well! You think they couldn’t handle it without you?’ And he just laughed in reply, ‘But I am a MAN!’ Go explain the simple thing to him! Testosterone! Damned testosterone! Each time he told me these stories, I nearly turned gray listening to all that. And then one day I ventured on a bold and desperate action. Just picked up and went hiking with him.”
“Ha-ha-ha!” the girls laughed merrily. “So then what?”
“And that was it! I got hooked!”
Valentina gave a happy joyful laugh imbued with freedom, ease and genuine, incomparable bliss.
“So one thing led to another,” she went on. “I went with him all the time. He didn’t take me only on the most difficult mountaineering trips.”
“And rightly so,” Semyonych growled out, throwing some freshly chopped firewood on the fire. “That’s no place for a woman.”
“Right you are,” she laughed. “Ah, that reminds me! While I was pregnant with Maksimka and during maternity leave I was having a break. And when our son grew up a little, I would leave him with granny. ‘Cause there’s no compromise when it comes to hiking. And he himself, when he grew up, began to ask to come along. I remember, when he was five, he’d say, ‘I am a man. I’ll stand up for you, mom. And now I can go hiking.’”
The girls laughed at the joke all at once.
“And now he has grown into a real Apollo!” the woman nodded to where her son together with the other men were working hard making camp.
The girls lowered their eyes embarrassed. They both liked Maksim, the handsome, fair-haired, good-looking lad. And he was single too…
“I know what you are thinking about,” Valentina winked at them.
The girls exchanged cheerful glances and felt embarrassed again.
So, in the meantime, talking and twaddling, the tourists built a fire and put the cauldron on it. The men set up the camp. The women were cooking meals. Soon the first flavorous smell of the delicious food began to fill their nostrils, exciting the appetite and inviting everyone to dinner.
“Valya, everything ready?” Semyonych asked, his belly rumbling.
“Wait a little, it’s still cooking,” his wife checked him patiently.
“If it’s hot it’s cooked. Valya, let’s start eating.”
“No, the meat is half-cooked. Be patient.”
“What’s the big deal?”
“Oh, come on! It was you who asked to bring fresh meat. Now be patient, will you?”
“Valya, I’m starving.”
“You eat now and you’ll be feeding tapeworms for the rest of your lives,” Valentina hushed him.
“All right, forget it,” Semyonych waved away.
He sat down and mused, tiredly wiping sweat off his forehead. And then he inadvertently looked aside, and what he saw took up all his attention…