Today’s story is 1540 words long and can be found here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/140.html
This is a funny story about how some medals and awards are achieved in the world. Stepan did not necessarily earn the Lion and Sun award by doing anything noble. Far from it. He made an ass out himself to the locals while entertaining and flattering a Persian guest. Stepan is definitely vain and I wonder if the mayor position is as high as he can rise or if yearns for something higher like governor. For the purposes of this story, it seems that medals are his obsession. It is funny that “he had made himself a little gold gun crossed by a guitar… [that] looked in the distance like something special, and delightfully resembled a badge of distinction.” The way that he lusts after the medals reminds me of North Korean generals. Like Steve I was surprised that he got the medal instead of finding out that Rahat-Helam was a rogue or that he might not be Persian at all. But Chekhov went deeper than a punchline. Stepan got what he wanted, but he now has a “painful, passionate longing” for another award. This psychology is why many successful people are never satisfied. Once they achieve a goal they have a melancholy and emptiness that must be filled by the next challenge.
In today’s story we are introduced to Stepan Ivanovitch Kutsyn, the mayor of a town along the Ural mountain range. There is a rumor running through town that a distinguished Persian named Rahat-Helam is spending the night at the local “Japan” hotel. As the town representative, Stepan takes it upon himself to show Rahat-Helam a good time…not to promote the town or his position but to gain the coveted Lion and the Sun medal to which the title refers. If Rahat-Helam is of Persian royalty, then it is within his power to grant Stepan the rare medal. Stepan is a collector with only two medals in his collection but he has an appetite for more. It reminded me of the tendency for those in the military to covet command coins (or “challenge coins“). Yes, I too am guilty. I have 17 on permanent display in my office with a few more scattered in drawers and on shelves…so I understand his infatuation. The degree to which Stepan was willing to subject himself to humiliation among his peers to achieve the medal speaks to a self-serving pathological obsession however. I half expected (and hoped) that some revelation would be made about the true identity of Rahat-Helam and that it would be less than flattering. Herein, Chekhov surprised me by instead fulfilling the assumptions and desires of Stepan and granting him the coveted medal…of course, nobody will notice.