Once my mother and I were riding in an overcrowded train. It was Victory Day. The man sitting opposite us looked like a peasant and was crying bitterly, washing his tears down with vodka. Every once in a while he’d break off to tell the same story. I heard it many times and remembered it. Here it is.
During the war he and his sister lost everyone close to them. Their village was destroyed, and they took shelter in another village, in an empty house. They were very hungry, and went from house to house asking for something to eat. Then the sister got sick, and the boy went by himself. They stopped giving him anything. Just when things were getting really bad, a miracle happened: at one of the houses they gave him a piece of pork. The boy ate his fill for the first time in days, and there was enough left for the sister. They were able to hold out for a couple of days more, and then some distant relatives found them and took them to the town where he lived for many years.
On that day he had gone back to the village where the miracle happened, to find the people who had saved his life and thank them, even though he didn’t know their names. He got off the train and found a big feast going on in the village. In the middle of the table was a ham, with bottles around it. He sat next to an old man. They drank. The old man looked thoughtfully at the table, then said: “I don’t like this holiday. It’s hard on me remembering the war, I have a great sin on my soul.
“During the war my son was sick. The doctor said he had to have meat. I sold everything I could and bought a pig. I slaughtered it, but the pig was sick. What could I do? In the village there was an orphan who went around begging. I decided I’d give him a piece, wait a couple of days and see what happened. If the beggar boy survived, I’d give my son the meat. I invited him to have some of the pork. But he didn’t survive, he didn’t walk around the village any more. We had to throw the meat away. My son died. It’s a heavy weight on me that I killed those children.”
The man took a swig from the bottle and started the story again.
Now, in the comments at the Shkrobius thread a couple of people said they remembered this story from an old magazine, and one of them found a link: it’s Мелкие неприятности (“Little annoyances”), by Pavel Nilin. The plot is close enough that it would be surprising if the two were unrelated; the main difference is that in the Nilin story there is no sick son—the villager tests out the pork on the boy and sees it doesn’t kill him; presumably he and his wife eat the rest. Either the fellow Shkrobius and his mother saw in the train (he says in the comment thread that it was in the early 1970s) had read the story (which is dated 1974) and was telling it as his own, or Nilin heard the same guy and made a literary story out of it. Or, of course, it could be coincidence. But the interesting thing is how much more effective the anecdote told by Shkrobius is; the Nilin story, with its careful scene-setting and description of neighbors and so on, just dissipates the power of it.