COLLECTION OF THE SHORT STORIES

YIN AND YANG

 

CONTENTS

A Woman Writer

A Letter to a Lover

Transformations

The Most Precise Clock in the World

Girl from Embankment

Eternal Love

Philosopher

A Duel in the Moscow State Library

 

A WOMAN WRITER

 

Olga is a writer. However this is not enough to render everything comprising her remarkable features, her privileged status, her character and distinctive personality. What I am trying to say is that Olga is a new prodigy of contemporary literature. Already the first book of poetry made her famous, with the reviewers meeting her with their arms wide open and soft-pointed pens. For reviewer’s pens tend to be unpleasantly pointed indeed, right immaculately sharpened and thus capable of reaching all, even the slightest hopes of young poets while treading and toiling up the Parnas. This however is not Olga’s fate, oh, not even remotely. She is being caressed and pampered by the reviewers as though she was their pet child while dotingly reading every single of her words, even the shortest and seemingly insignificant ones. And words gush out and roll around like raging waves on the rough sea, crashing against rocks of unrelenting theoreticians and literary critics.

Not that this really matters. Olga had always dreamt she would, once she grew up, once she had gone through her own maturing period, just like sweet, succulent fruit of inspiration, become exactly what she has turned into now. At the age of thirty she made her dreams come true. How wrong was that unrestrained and lascivious Miller when claiming young girls can be clearly distinguished from an early age as dutiful and zealous housewives and faithful wives, or, on the other hand, as loose lovers, by only watching their awkward and clumsy walk, by their first uncertain steps and waving their hips and thighs. Not a single word about the spirit. And spirit has always been what Olga cherishes by quenching her thirst at ample wells of greatest and immortal accomplishments of literary geniuses of all times and meridians. Even nowadays she wanders through mazes of libraries, town and university alike, and strives to find that almighty Word standing at the very beginning the Creation. “There was a word at first”, says the Bible, the Book of all Books, and Olga creates the world, over and over again, using exactly that very almighty Word. In her quest for more daring, more impudent and more challenging expressions in contemporary poetry and poetic prose, once Olga happened to be at an interview along with another equally known and famous writer. That author claimed only those who do not dare to live a real life get down to writing for those who live have no urge to write. Those who do write, do it for this way they create an illusion, an image of life they would like to have, yet not even remotely dare to live. Olga took time to think over that statement, it rather started bugging and haunting her like a cursed shadow attached to our own heels which we cannot get rid of no matter what we do. If we turn left, the shadow bends to the left following our body; if we bow, it shrinks yet persistently imitates every move we make. The shadow forced Olga to finally reconsider her life. She has always wanted to be a writer and this is what she has become. Yet, is this all there is to her life, is there anything to hope for and is this even a kind of life worth mentioning? Musing, rummaging through bookshelves in bookshops and libraries, jotting down bold and insolent lines, making up poetic scenarios in prose, dream about characters living challenging and fulfilling lives in the stories, just as she  has always been expecting that succulent fruit to fall of the tree of inspiration and spill over a piece of paper as though it was ink. Is that a dreamt-about life, is this a fulfilment the characters of her stories experience, or those even more incredible characters from all the novels of worldwide known authors she had carefully and almost lust-blinded read, and then re-read innumerate times? And to make things even worse, in her frenzied chase after the books, almost by a spiteful and wicked play of destiny, Olga came across a scholastic psychological treatise which, in exclusively expert vocabulary, described this phenomenon of unobserved non-living, of withdrawal and all kinds of imaginable and unimaginable, fathomable and unfathomable escapes from the reality, with scribemania topping the list. This has drawn Olga to the verge of utter desperation. Her whole life of a so-called famous woman writer might only be a mere illusion and escape from the reality? Her obsessive scribemania might only be weaving an apparition of life she does not dare to taste, dive into, from whose well she would not drink and simply live, live and live it?

Milan is a special education teacher. However this is not enough to render everything comprising his remarkable features, his privileged status, his character and distinctive personality. Milan is a special education teacher; a rebel, an oppositionist to all theories in his profession and a very eager and ambitious young man. He works at the Centre for Behavioural Disorders, and there he has been in an everlasting conflict with both his superiors and subordinates. He introduces new methods, tries out new tricks to break subconscious resistance of the needy students in the Centre, as well as to introduce them into a new world where they will be able to breath deeply and sort out their own conflicts, and then push themselves away from all the shores and set out onto the vast seas of life. Milan is an eternal rebel in every respect and every sense of the word that might come into your mind; he defies and clashes with all standards, all Procrustes’s beds of theories that particular river unconditionally wants to squeeze into, that wild torrent, that eternal well of life.

When he was a student, Milan led a rather wild life in Zagreb. Being born in Gospic, he deeply despised this long-lost high-society spirit of Zagreb, mostly fake nowadays. He thus lived his life in its dreary and suburban corners, where flats were cheaper to rent. If those shanty, dilapidated places may be called flats at all. Milan paid no attention whatsoever to those details because he spent very little time there anyway, he would just call in to have a night’s sleep, or rather, to have a nap, and then he would go back to the torrent rushing along the rims of Zagreb. And there was partying all days long, there was singing in that legendary meeting point of the youngsters “Under the Old Roofs”; they wandered round and frequented dodgy pubs at late hours, and eventually you can say the life was what hot-blooded students wanted it to be. Milan also had a band, and teenage girls used to scream before the stage they were plying on, a kind of resembling groupies. He wrote the lyrics and sang to the music written by, in terms of musical skills, more knowledgeable members of his band. He would travel to Gospic for weekends. During the train journey from Zagreb to Gospic there was a real party given to other passengers by Milan and his friends from the same countryside. They would make jokes and laugh like crazy for the full four hours while the train dragged lazily along the rails in one direction, and then on early Monday morning back into the other, the one taking them back to Zagreb. Milan has always liked to brag and show off like a peacock, taking great pride in his manly charms that girls, only fair to say, have never been able to resist. Both girls and his band and his hometown friends and journeys to Dubrovnik in summer where they slept on the beaches and woke up with the first sunrays – that was all Milan lived while he was a student, and his life did not change even when he got a job and decided to stay in Zagreb for he could not find a suitable job back home in Gospic. Even now he is still renting flats, though a bit less shabby and messy, resembling what common people consider proper flats. No more shanty, dilapidated places. Yet he still travels to Gospic every weekend on the same slow and idle train.

Now you must be wondering what Olga and Milan have in common. Well, Milan was passionately in love with poetry, and Olga was a poet and a writer of poetic prose. So during one of promotions of her latest book of poems, Milan happened to have come too. As I have already pointed out, Milan himself wrote poetry to which his band colleagues wrote music to. He was not fooling himself about the greatness of his work and that it made much sense. He had a lot of sense for living, while sitting at the desk for hours and brooding over and creating new verses permeated with poetic phantasmagoria – this was certainly not a kind of life he would choose for himself. However this not prevent him from, apart from his numerous and various interests, admiring and appreciating those who see life in exactly that poetic brooding and creating. 

Milan was absolutely thrilled with Olga’s poetry. So he decided, no surprise about it, he had to reach for the woman writing such a brilliant poetry. After the promotion, he approached her, introduced himself and poured out his compliments and praises, not only of literary-reviewing nature, but others as well, which he skilfully pulled out, and Olga’s attention was drawn by that tall, thin man, a man who, apart from his eloquence, at the same time had some kind of raw, primal charm. And thus the idyll began.

Love, oh, that holy, elated, that sweet feeling overwhelmed Olga’s passionate heart. Milan took her to all those places where he used to party, he told her of his adventures when he was a schoolboy and then a student, he amused her with funny events and little, imaginative gifts, he confided his ideas on new theoretical mental works he was about to come up with and apply to his needy students at the Centre where he worked, he would call her at all times of day and night, and, with a relief, Olga thought – there came life, love is inexhaustible, supple and abundant well of life she was now tasting like the sweetest and most succulent fruit. And, undoubtedly, as human nature is unchangeable in its essence, she began writing love poetry. The reviewers met this with exaltation and praised the new stage in her work. And everything was so glittering, so enrapturing and profuse. Olga was a little scared she might suddenly stagger and slip on the thin ice she was treading, free of any thoughts, and now she was skating like a most skilful skater. Milan used to finish every of his stories with his favourite lines: “Well, that’s life”, and Olga believed she had just started living her life to the full, breathing in scents of life, unravelling and blossoming before her eyes in diversity of brilliant colours.

Milan still spent his weekends in Gospic. Those long days of loneliness and awaiting pressed gently against Olga’s breast. Oh, what a sweet pain! And as I have already noted earlier, human nature is unchangeable, and Olga spent her days of complete loneliness writing, of course. She dreamt what it would be like when Milan came back from Gospic and what he would do to make her happy, what their new meeting would be like, what he would tell her; oh, so much daydreaming and so many thoughts Olga had to fill many pages with new poetic prose and innumerate passionate lines. And there were the pages, covered in lines from the top to the bottom, just what Olga was musing about and what heights she would fly away in Milan’s absence. The lines were written just as they had been coming, just as they had been growing and falling over during the long hours of awaiting. Everything was wrapped up in a sweet mist of daydreams, and her lines were as though they had been emerging from the realm of dreams, not reality. Some poems were already published in a respectable literary magazine, but Olga kept it a secret from Milan, she never told him a word about it. She did not want to reveal the life of her own soul to him and thus give herself away like an easy prey.

The text swaggered on the front cover of a magazine. Olga wrote:

“Cover me with leaves”, I will tell you.

“I can’t”, will be your reply, “you aren’t cold, nor have you turned into a Moor arabesque, so I don’t know what tendrils I should use to cover you with.”

“Will you have some chestnuts?”, I will ask.

“No, I like only hot autumn chestnuts they roast at the corners of Upper Town lanes. Chestnuts from the outskirts don’t taste as good as those from the Upper Town”, you will reply unwillingly, pointing towards the Upper Town.

“Right, I’ll roast Upper Town chestnuts for you, then”, my hopes will start fading away, and I will start remembering letters written during the scorching summer.

“No, I’m in a hurry, I’m already late. I might miss my last night tram. The time hasn’t been on my side today, and my watch seems to be slow”, will be your reply, while moving away from me and already being somewhere far away, on the other side of the Sava, in your habitat of southern birds. They will fly aloft, high up in the sky, leaving me down under, alone.

“Please, stay a while, I’ll fetch some fresh spring water”, I will start pleading while thinking of you slow, creeping hands going round and round in your watch.

“Oh, no”, you will say absolutely listlessly, failing to even notice the range of my deep, resounding voice, a voice of a cooing dove with her wings completely soaked (I will fly into the air any moment now, I am certain of that), “I’m not thirsty. Anyway, I might get a sore throat, you know, autumn colds are just about to start.”

“Right. At least let me cover you with leaves.”

“Fine, then cover me with leaves”, you will agree and I will begin to cover your body with leaves, carefully choosing the most yellow ones with long stalks, curbed rims, decorated with ornate brown colour on yellow foundation of autumn rain leaves, and I shall leave my cloudy summer rain abode, and I shall become a drop relentlessly dripping over the dried leaves. Thus I shall cover you with leaves, clothe you into autumn, hide you into a deep pocket of a brown coat and leave. For good. For a forgotten oblivion of a parched summer, for a wasteland of a deserted autumn. I shall cover you with leaves and leave for good. And you will say while leaving “I’ll bring back your books next autumn”, and again I shall be covering you with leaves and I shall leave once again, but this time for good, for the next autumn, for the next expectations, for nowhere, for good.

Yet, I will get thirsty on my road to nowhere and I will feel like drinking fresh, clean, spring water. Then I will come back to the place where we have just met, after centuries and centuries, after ages and ages of thirst, so I will feel like quenching it at the murmuring Upper Town currents, and then I shall say “Would you like me to cover you with leaves?”

“Oh, no”, you will reply, recently awaken from a deep, refreshing century-long sleep, “I’m not cold. Would you please give a glass of mountain ice; let it melt slowly and add two more mountain crystals, and when they refract sun rays, I’ll drink up the emeralds from your eyes.”

“Fine”, I will be appeased and soothed, “I’ve got enough of mountain ice; I’ve left it on my coming here, and I always carry the crystals. Agate has already been covered with dew while impregnating crystals in mountain streams; I’ve cleansed the silver and gathered the gold at the golden veins of the golden wells. I’ll fetch you a glass, that transparent, light, crystal, fresh, to quench your thirst from the mountain crystals and ice from the snow-covered mountain tops. I’ve just come that way. I haven’t been away long, have I?”

“Oh, no”, you will say while stretching drowsily, “I’ve really had a nice sleep. A century or two, does it really matter? It’s really good you’ve decided to take a stroll in such a refreshing morning. And, please,…”, you will add, “take out that chestnut from your pocket – I can see a bulge on your brown coat – give it to me; we won’t roast it, I’ll just keep it as a token of a pledge until next autumn.”

And I will, blossoming with unexpected happiness, drop all of mountain crystals out of my hands, and they will pour over with a shower of chestnuts; I will retrieve the emeralds from my eyes, emeralds that have turned into mountain crystals from long staring at the stars, from all that astronomy, all star-gazing and starriness; and I shall give you the chestnut from the deep pocket of my brown coat and leave you only for a while, or another eon perhaps, “wait a moment until I close the door”, words will come out of my mouth, and then I shall spread my body for you, for your breakfast. After you have had enough, I will turn into an astronomer and I will recognize your every step, no matter how far away you might be, and I will know at any time where you are, who you are with, and I will never ever leave you again, not for any eternity, not for a single immortality, and I will always know where you are, and what time it is, and I will never be late, that I can promise, for you have drunk from my crystal glasses and you have quenched your thirst and satisfied your hunger having eaten my overripe orange and you have taken my chestnut as a gift. Therefore I shall not leave you; therefore I shall fill your goblet with mountain crystals. For you have just woken up, for you are still sleepy, for I love your sleepy dreams, for I have given you the chestnut.

Or rather: We will meet on the first day of autumn this year, and you will say “Have you built your rain-house with straight rainy flower-beds, with verticals and horizontals of salamander’s rounds?”

“Oh, yes, I’ve been working hard the whole summer. The house has been finished, and the garden around has been planted with water-grasses, and corn flowers have already sprouted out. Unfortunately sun flowers did not thrive; the weather of rainy seasons, of gushing monsoon rains does not suit them. Never mind, I don’t think South Africa has turned into a flooded continent.”

“That’s really good”, you will reply, “at least you won’t run away to South Africa for the summer again. Anyway, let the scorching continent flood, we shall move this autumn to your rainy town. We shall leave this exhausting Zagreb, and I’m fed up with the wilderness. I have no regrets about South Africa, you know; I’ve already hunted down all lions, tamed and subdued them, and now I’d go for The Little Prince.”

“How shall we call him?”, I will ask in the ecstasy of crimson dawns.

“Marko, no doubt about it, let’s call him Marko. Come on, let’s move away, I’ll melt down like a clot of icicles. I’ve had enough of this town. Anyway, have you prepared my dinner?”, you will ask looking closely at my marshy hair, touching it as though your fingers were tight strings of stormy torrents pouring down from sombre skies, just before the great flood.

“Yes, all sweets and pastries, all nectar and ambrosia from Mt. Olympus. Zeus is sending out his note he won’t be able to attend for his fear of the third generation of Gods and the revenge of his own father Cronus. Helena is seeking revenge; she is tired of semi-divine earthy children. She won’t hurt us, the true gods of earthy children. Nectar and ambrosia have been served; sit down, here by my side”, I will say, pouring out all heavenly news before your feet, begging you to forgive me. I do not feel like having any food; I have been burdened with heaven, so you will have to eat alone; I am fed up with innumerate feasts and festivals I had with Gods while you were away.

“So be it; but you will eat for two for Marko’s sake, won’t you? Promise me that.”

I am smiling absent-mindedly and making plaits from marshy depths. My skin is tight, it is smooth and radiant; my eyes are emerald green, woven from marshy views. I am sinking into the depths, I am feeling dozy; I can see sea monsters and floods of all floods. Olympus is standing upside down, turned inside out; on the back side of the letter its watermarks have been embossed. You are feeding to divine nectar while I am sighing, pressed with waves between the rocks where shipwrecked fleet is lying motionless. “We shall move away, this very autumn”, you are telling me between two gulps, three miles long, and you are spreading by my side, by my feet, and I keep panting heavily; I am trying to have some rest after a long day’s toil of building a whole rainy town. It is good to be tired after a work like that; the rest is even sweeter, it is as sweet as your silvery voice, as smooth as my tightened breast, as well-fed as the Giants, as strong as the Minotaur and just as equally wanton. Let’s have a break, let’s rest for a while, and then we can move to the rainy house on the top of heavy, grey clouds. Just a little bit more, just a little while longer, and then good-bye forever and ever to you, common world, you have not deserved our divine children. Thus we leave heavy milling stones to you, to eat them up, just like Cronus had done with his own children. You will be devoured by the time of transience, by the time of eternity, by the timeness of un-immortality. We shall be leaving you, you common world, before you disappear like flooded South Africa; marshy grounds under your crooked legs, like an exhausted and lost Minotaur, unable to find a single new innocent victim in his own labyrinths. Good-bye, you common world, we shall drink up all the nectar and leave you with nothing but sunken bells; let them echo in the depths and call in their sunken voices, let them, just let them,… just a little more, just another eternity and I shall throw you a round chestnut, the last offspring in the line of eternal chestnut trees, my final birth in this world. “Come,” I will call, “let’s start, there is a long way ahead of us.” Thus we shall set out on a journey into the eternity, along the road of no return.

Or rather: I will transform into a stone maid on the shores of a northern town, and a song will be sung for me, “Stone maiden, / pour over into a petrified verse, / spread like sand never to be yours, / surrender to the waves / and melt with the froth, / lose your trace and grow into a rock, / never let the dawn wake you up”, and you will go past me and, without recognizing me, say casually and laconically “Look, there’s a stone maiden”, and then go on your way, moving far away from me, the petrified girl. And will not know of my destiny, of my bad luck, ill fate; you will not find out about my turning into a stone while waiting for you, about my becoming a white marble and just carelessly, just casually cloaked with white marble you have just passed by.

Or rather: I shall vanish in the powder of shadows, in the dust of shadows, and then verses will be written for me; “Oh, shadow, / you shadow of all shadows, / do not let be overshadowed, / take a shelter beneath the clouds, / cloak with the darkness, / and wrap up in evanescence; / do not yield / but let yourself to the rolling waves” (written on 19 Aug, 1994), and you will simply pass by, not recognizing the shadow I have turned into, and you will keep quiet for nobody addresses shadows, nobody talks to them; I shall only creep into your dreams and abide there until the end of time. And there will be no recognition in your eyes, nor will you know I am the shadow treading closely at your feet; you will not be aware of me, your shadow, hooked to Peter Pan’s heel, your Tinkerbell making your wishes come true, your goldfish, a long extinct species,  vanished from all fairytales we have ever mused over, from every dream we have ever had; and you will not recognize me, you will never know it is me, your shadow, a shadow of all your shadows, a shadow of water murmuring in spring and a shadow of orchards in the gardens of the paradise past their prime, a shadow following you closely and having a nap with you under the trees scattered over soft-grassed walking grounds, beneath cobbles on triangular lawns and tree-lined vegetable farms. For I am your shadow, I have turned into a shadow and I utter my last shadowy words, “Oh, shadow, / you shadow of all shadows, / do not let be overshadowed, …” (copied on 30 Aug, 1995)

And it will certainly be like this: “Tell me, did you manage to talk at all to Matilda Urrutia while I was away?”, you will utter your question while having a rest after a long journey (home-comings last forever; home-leavings elapse like seconds).

“Yes, I did, we spoke once. Pablo seemed to have gone on a longer journey than usual”, I will give you the answer, blissful for starting a conversation about our good and dear friends, friends we share a whole eternity of acquaintance with.”

“Oh, really? Has he left her again?”, you will ask with smiling eyes. For you know Neruda much better than I do, while I know Matilda much better than you do. We have been friends for only an eternity, but it feels like we have always know each other.

“I guess it’s true. Matilda is a kind of desperate, completely distressed over his leavings. Pablo seems to feel like needing new verses. Therefore he is in pain; he says he simply doesn’t suffer enough when he is with her, and that is bad for giving birth to new poems”, I will say humbly testing your patience, fishing for your surrender, waiting for a silent answer to unspoken question why you yourself left me for so long, for the whole eternity.

“Well, he might have only gone to collect some rosewood, for kindling in the worm-holed nights of winter warming”, you will reply casually, not paying any attention to my inexhaustible inquiring, to my current of questions, wanting to know how everything went, who you met, why you did not call for so long, and so on.

“He has already used rosewood to create poems for her, now he must be collecting marble chips Michelangelo casually left behind, after his chaos of creation was over. They say the chips were taken to Rome, and Pablo fancied some stone verses; he’d like to turn Matilda into a stone, to immortalize her through petrifying his new marble dreams”, I will say, wordlessly reproaching you for my own petrification.

“Oh, is that so? Matilda must be incredibly grateful for such an intrepid accomplishment. Marble is heavy, and poetry-carving chisel can barely penetrate into the stone, making its way with heavy movements of carving skills”, you will say in utterly practical terms, being used to way I fail to verbalize my hidden answers, to my wordless reproaching, to my astringency. For I have carved myself in solitude, with you being away, and I have turned into a white-grey marble of Michelangelo’s angels, I have gained all the heavenly quality, melted with the sky at stone portals of Venetian churches.

“I’m afraid Matilda Urrutia is suffering much more than Pablo”, and I shall rebuke you again, banish you from the Paradise once again and exile you for ever and ever, amen.

“Oh, come on! You women have no idea how to carve verses through pain and suffering!”, and you will banish me from the paradise as well, drive me out from the biblical heaven, me – the cursed one who had given you an apple; me, Eve, the first woman to blame for your own exile, the first in a row, the first among many yet to come.

“Well, certainly”, I will tell you reconciled, for exiles from any paradise should not last for long; they should be brief and fast, and then forgiving and hard so that I can keep you, not let you drive me out of your paradise gardens and not get suffocated by red apple parings I had been given by a serpent from the Tree of Knowledge. And Matilda’s pain is even more poignant, I am absolutely convinced about it, for Pablo creates poems and there is nothing to create for her in his absence, she has already created him, the Pablo Neruda; she gave him a birth and now she feels alone and barren while preparing lonely breakfasts and solitary dinners in the kitchen, while talking to her friends who are envious for the carved verses with no good having come out for herself. What a curse is to bring a poet into the world and then to be left alone and abandoned and forgotten; he even dares to be resentful and says “My fair lady, many sufferings have I felt giving life to these lines, solely for you, lines I have called sonnets; oh, how I have suffered, yet the joy of giving a gift is far larger than a meadow.” And then he will add, like touching her on her ultimate sore wound, when he was away for the two whole eternities, for the age of ten full lifetimes, throughout the whole period she was dwelling alone in the wasteland of her untimely overripening and long-faded youth, he was looking for the rosewood. He will probably tell her how her solitude and faded youth and ruined life are remedies for agonizing soul and a relief for a wide-gaping wound in the very centre of his heart, and then he will tell her, to this lonely, solitary and abandoned woman, forgotten by every single soul, he will tell her, “I knew well at the very beginning that poets of all times had always been choosing rhymes resounding and clinking like silver, or crystals, or cannonades. They had always been doing it by their own choice while seeking for grace. I myself have humbly created these sonnets from wood, I’ve given them sound of a harsh and pure matter, and they must reach your ear in exactly the same form”. Of course, with all the humbleness, undoubtedly, in the body of Narcissus while bending over a transparent shimmering lake surface; he loves his own figure just like Pablo loves Matilda, of course, no doubt about it; and she is alone, completely alone, and she is silver, and crystal, and cannonaded, and wooden, and she will turn into anything as long as Pablo comes back to carve his lines and in the birth of his own infatuation with himself finally wakes up to be sober again, to become a human poet, or poetic human, it does not really matter. Nothing matters as long as he is here and as long as his verses, those wretched works of poetic minds, stop inflicting so much pain. She is worried for Pablo is suffering, he is enduring; oh, that is so unfair! Fate, or God, or Nature are immensely cruel towards Pablo; so much agony and his poetic soul will eventually dry out, if only he did not suffer so much and stayed with her in the kitchen where she prepares those delicious doughnuts for his weakened body. But you will not be able to understand Matilda, you only know Pablo and thus I am not going to say a word, thus I am going to keep quiet for I do not want you to banish me from the paradise, I do not want you to reproach me for the original sin that makes you travel all over the world. And you felt so great while in paradise.

Yes, it is going to be like that.

And – how fickle can the destiny turn out to be – shortly after one of her texts was published in a magazine and Olga once again won laurels, Milan happened to start calling less and less often. At first Olga paid no particular attention to it because Milan spoke very little about his problems at work, about his tenancy agonies and he seemed to beat around a bush to say something, but after a brief moment he would change his mind and commence his dark silence. Olga believed everything was just as Milan told her – he was being tormented with usual, quotidian things, but that would pass for, as Milan use to say, that’s life! And then his leaving the town became more and more frequent. As soon as he finished his work, he would sit in his car and raced to Gospic along that brand new motorway, and then come back late at night, sometimes right before dawn, just in time not to be late for work. But that’s life, thought Olga. Or at least that was she said to comfort her; word ‘life’ seemed such a magical excuse. For life is not just a breathtaking ice-dance but also wobbles and heavy falls after doubling out on an Axel and hitting the hard surface of the whiteness of ice.

But as the time went by, and as the fine thread linking Milan and Olga grew thinner and more fragile, and Milan’s dark silences and absences grew more frequent, Olga felt as though she was stumbling over the slippery and shaky footing ice provides for skaters. And, as though she had presentiments through everything she had written over the period of their idyll of joyful and bitter-sweet expectations in those better and happier days, Milan simply disappeared one day. It is true people do not disappear into thin air, or vanish like bubbles, but Milan was simply gone. Olga tried to reach him at work but they told her Milan had gone on a holiday and would be away for a fortnight. She did not dare call his place in Gospic for he might have not gone there at all and she did not want to unnecessarily upset his parents as he may have gone somewhere else. That time however the expectations did not yield creative inspiration; there was only fear, anxiety, apprehension. All kinds of things came to Olga’s mind. He could be exhausted with troubles he had only hinted in few words, he may have gone away to come to an important decision, he might come back and propose to her, or he might never come back… The thoughts were racing through Olga’s mind!

It went on and on, until one day she saw a white envelope in her pigeon-box. A letter. She was really curious while taking out the letter and wondering what that might be. There was no return address at the back, and neither was there the usual sticker the post-office clerks put on envelopes after it has flown out from those printing machines like a released butterfly. There was only an unsealed stamp.

Olga went up to the second floor, got into her flat, sat at the table and had a look at the letter. What she might find after she has it opened, she was wondering, and suddenly she was panic-stricken. She put the letter aside, slipped it away to the far side of the table and looked through the window. This was his letter, she was sure of it. There was everything there, everything in black and white. The truth. Well, that’s life, as Milan always says. And now that letter was a part of her life, thought Olga with bitterness. Doesn’t he dare to talk to her face to face? Doesn’t he even dare to break up his dark silences and say aloud what he had put into that damned, white envelope? Or could it be good news? Could that be the end of her agony of waiting and her quest for all potential answers to a single question: what was going on with Milan? And where he was, and where he left for, and… Oh, damn, I am going to open that letter and bring my anguish to an end.

She tore the thin paper open and pulled out a single sheet of paper. Indeed, it was Milan’s letter. She glanced over the only page he had written. Thick fog seemed to have fallen and blurred her vision over the period of her expectations. The letter was short. No stalling, no elaborate handwriting, no unnecessary words. The letter read:

“Dear Olga, I would like to inform you I have found a job in Gospic and decided to move back to my home town. I am not coming back to Zagreb - that part of my life is over. My girlfriend is also from Gospic, I met her two months ago and we are about to get engaged. I want to make my own home. My friendship with you has been one of the greatest moments in my entire life. But the life goes on and I so do I. I wish you all well. Love, Milan.”

“Life goes on and so do I”, echoed in Olga’s head. Her vision was getting blurred and she heard crackling sounds in her head. That’s life, Milan used to say so often. And while Milan was living his life, she kept dreaming and writing about her dreams. “The word must be split into two parts”, thought Olga with bitterness, “one that lives vividly, the other that creates vivid images of life”. Like person, like life, she added to herself. And people do not change even it that costs them their own lives. If she had to replace her life for somebody else’s, then it would be as hard for her as it is for skaters to learn double Axel, and then it is even more difficult to get up off the ice-cold surface after having landed heavily trying to finally jump that tricky jump properly. The same was with Olga, a skater lacking skating skills. She had barely learned to live when life laughed into her face.

Miller was right, Olga thought. From a very young age you can tell, rather accurately, which girl is about to live her life, and which will keep dreaming about it. And, as always, or as Milan says, that’s life, Olga dragged heavily into her sacrosanct workshop, as she called her study, a place of her creative work, pressed a button on her computer and while a green light was flickering on the screen, she was staring through the window. “That’s life”, she typed on an empty page of a new stage of her work and she started typing like crazy. This exact story is lying before you.

 

A LETTER TO A LOVER

 

Dear A, you see, it is raining again today. It has been raining relentlessly and it is not like I wanted it keep pouring for days. But you know, yesterday’s rain is not the same as today’s. Yesterday it only gave a hint of autumn whereas today it is drizzling in its genuine autumnal way. Late-autumnal way. I most certainly dislike late autumnal rains in the midst of summer. I feel like expecting, I feel like contemplating and dreaming; things might happen unexpectedly and too soon, which is a bad omen. The drops keep making slanting lines, single-lined quintessences, straight streaks, as though they were drawing plans, blueprints, outlines, drafts and crowns of non-existent heavenly, rainy cities. What it would be like to settle in such a city? To build a home, make a house with rainy bricks, straight, slanting, outlined and crowned bricks? We would have the building material in abundance; we might even be able to build another house, another cottage, a home for our undreamt rainy children. They would play with rain drops, make castles in rain soaked sand and they would all be covered in mud. They would saunter through the puddles of rain and explore swampy wastelands covered with ivy and water grass. They would look after cornflowers in rain drops, after sunflowers alternately withering away and drowning in rain floods, in stormy nights streaked with lightnings and thunders, in the roar of the flooding deluge of all deluges of the world. My South Africa would vanish, too, a place where I will most certainly spend the summer of Sunshine Children. I feel sorry for South Africa. Lions do not mate any more in the misty heat of scorched grass under the relentless sun, under sharp nails of sunrays, under devastating torridness annihilating everything that comes its way.

There is going to be a flood here. The earth will immerse into rain and grass; grass shall grow so abundantly we will not be able to force our way through it, not even in giant leaps I was supposed to cross the river and reach your abode in captured, not wild but tamed nature. How unhappy is a tamed nature! It is not tame and mild; it is crippled, bitten like my nails, tired like my sleepless insomnia, restless like my trembling and scattered thoughts, ruthless like my expectations, strained like the strings of my thoughts, burnt up like a cigarette butts in my ashtray (throw it away, you don’t need that!), mutilated like my smoker’s lungs. How can a man of the wilderness live in a tamed nature? The nature would never utter as a fox did to the Little Prince: “Tame me and I shall be yours!” No, the nature would reject fox’s call. For foxes cannot be tamed and every attempt shall be in vain. They should be left to their untameable nature, just like I should be left to the mutilation of my bitten nails, my fantasies, fantasies of awakened summer with straight lines of salamanders’ rains. Lizards cannot be enjoying them now, they are missing the bright sun; amphibians, however, are rejoicing with happiness, frogs are swelling under the moonlight and croaking relentlessly, the whole orchestra of puffed, mucous, green frogs. In Japan, they say, there is a special kind of haiku poetry devoted to croaking; their croaking is so kind to the ear that they get music written to those haiku creations. Maybe it is for them to croak more harmoniously, or to add some undertones to their croaking, underhumming to their humming, to be able hear what is beyond hearing, what is unknown to any hearing, or quite the opposite, to be heard, even louder, even croakier, to enhance the atmosphere of the moonlit night in the croaking? (I believe it is on such moonlit nights frogs throw splendid, unrepeatable and unforgettable concerts which Japanese poets frequent, listening carefully to the orchestral suites and writing music to their haikus, frog haikus, naturally. This is what Lafcadio Hearn wrote and I believe him, he knows more about the Japanese than themselves. What a pity! What only the Japanese could say about the Japanese frog croaking! Nothing comprehensible, naturally, for croaking in Japan is completely Japanese, not resembling anything known, at least our nondescript, tiny frogs in grassy marshes of indented embankments. The embankment stretches far ahead; how many of those marshy empires have only emerged during the rainy night! The whole Frogland, The Frog Empire, The Kingdom of Amphibians! A new evolutionary accomplishment by the Nature: some day a new breed of adaptable frogs shall be born in summer rains, a breed that does not wait for the sun but mate under the shaded moon, resilient to anything, not expecting anything. Utterly amoral, completely obscene, a breach of a samurai code of having concert solely in moonlit nights. What if there is a subscription to every day, in a bold, samurai was, at any time of a day or night, disregarding sun and moon eclipses? How about fleeing into a rainy town? The rain has already erected it for us, we only need to settle there. I shall talk discuss it with you after you have returned. From the wilderness. Into a captured nature. An immoral act of return, obscene performance of un-samurai codes. I think this is a battle of Moors defeating offended Spaniards; a win of wilderness over chastity; suppressing rage before arabesque ruins of Moorish buildings. In this game, chaste Spaniards are most certainly the losing party.

I am convinced I shall turn into a tree; my body will become an oak trunk, with my skin turning into a soft, supply elm bark. I shall become a magical tree having grown completely randomly, alone, just like those trees I had written you before, at the foot of an embankment, lonely and abandoned, growing wild - you cannot even take a walk or rest beneath it. I shall turn into a tree like that, a wondrous tree-bush, and I shall become a mixture of fine herbs (that will keep blossoming in my branches), then I will feel like becoming pregnant with a self-proclaimed stray-wind; I will not know his name, but we will conceive a life, in a single magical rapture of a windy kiss, and I will become pregnant; my trunk shall grow wide and round and I shall resemble a century-old common oak, gentle, yet huge; I shall turn into a tall fir tree, pointing its peaks into faraway heavens. I shall resist every blow of summer storms, I shall grow my loving breed hiding it carefully in my depths; I shall grow my roots deep into the ground feeding on its sap, nurturing a life in my womb; I shall be both tall and round like an oak tree gentle, round fruit. I shall give a life to myself in the ecstasy of yearning, then I shall bend to the ground, drooping from the load; I shall bend my huge boughs and howl at winds having failed to impregnate me in the danger of their rapture and whipping of my trembling branches; I shall challenge the heavens and will not let them have the life from my womb, as Zeus and Chronos from ages ago. I want a new generation of oak children and forest deities to emerge; just before giving birth I shall grow bunches of fine, fragrant herbs on my bushy branch tops; then I shall force my roots deeper into the ground and make my trunk even wider and rounder; my skin shall be fragrant, my bark shall be gentle and supple as if I were a birch, streaked with white, black-dotted lines and only then I shall give birth to a myriad of spherical, brownish and perfectly round chestnuts. There will be so many chestnuts that birds will not be able to find place to build their nests in my branches; their flocks will fly above my crown in surprise, but in the myriad of my fruit there shall be not a tiniest free spot. I shall gently sway my nuts in the cradles of my proud crown and I shall take immense pride in my fruit of a transient rapture and will not have anybody take a single healing, magical fruit. I shall give them to you only when we take a stroll underneath the crowns of a wild oak tree; I shall bend down, all the way to the ear of the earth, whisper a secret forest prayer and give you a brownish and round, a perfectly smooth chestnut. And I shall tell you – here is a fruit of our love rapture, you self-called stray-wind, you who seduced me on suburban meadows and then left me, looking for yourself in the southern wilderness; you sentenced me to a hundred years of a summer solitude, to be a slave of my own daydreaming, to have you in my dreams, to listen closely to echoes of your silvery voice, crevices of ancient depths, and to deliver millions of worlds of imaginative dreams, to deliver chestnuts I shall give you in autumn. This is how it is going to be. Sometime underway, halfway through a stroll of Gulliver steps in the land of Lilliputians, or the other way round, I shall bend forward, thus leaving briefly a grip of your fingers that sometimes squeeze painfully, I shall bend down to the ears and mouth of the earth, but I shall not whisper anything(for the emperor has no goat ears, he has nothing to hide; the emperor is tall and handsome as proper for emperors in empires still remembering their princes and their happy, and not so happy childhoods, and their castles and palaces, and their mischief, and they nurture mystical tales on immortality of emperors and their descendents, on their splendour and wealth, on their invaluable fortune, vast treasuries fraught with priceless riches, values the world had never seen before. I shall whisper only the prayer for the self-inviting stray-wind; a prayer not to leave me for another hundred years of solitude of another summer, not to fall asleep, drown into a thorn-induced slumber he will never wake up from. I shall cite a forest prayer to prevent the magic vanish at midnight and to prevent our coaches from turning into pumpkins and handsome lackeys into mere wild mice. And I shall ask oak tree crowns to bring fruit every single year from now on for me to dream about them, for me to give them as the most precious gift while strolling in a long-awaited walk below an occasional oak tree. And I shall ask birch trees not to bend before wind gusts, and weeping willows not to droop over currants of frothing streams where they grow; and I shall ask the wind not to wander into southern wilderness, not to lose its way in northern wastelands, but to come to my windows, day in, day out, so I can write down a few more lines while you are still away. You see, it is raining again and I am thinking about soaking cracks in the reddish earth with the life-giving rain, I am thinking how earth’s sap flows and soaks wheat growing fields, how all cracks and crannies are being filled with rainwater, how then the water flows away through gaps known only to itself, and how the ground is getting filled, fertile, impregnated, rainy and arisen. I am imagining the vast surface of the earth, every nook and cranny of its innards – how they are getting watered, soaked, flooded, rained, running like heavenly tears. I am imagining them giving birth overnight to grass, and then the grass growing and thriving in green and red dewy blades. I am imagining myself, barefoot and lightly covered with a fairytale cloak; I am walking through the thick grass, I am making my way and creating a path which cannot grow back into the grass – I leave a deep, cut-in trait of my steps while, not knowing it myself, walking towards you - I say not knowing because I do not wish to know,  nor I do wish to come to you in a great expectation. I want to be surprised by the encounter and the grip of your long fingers whose hold sometimes cuts painfully into my skin, suddenly appalled in a stroll, surrounded unexpectedly and under attack so that my surrender becomes a consent of the apprehended, an agreement of the arrested, a turning in of the astray, a confession of the imprisoned. I want you to meet me somewhere underway, on my dreamy and lonely walks, to take me by force, to hold me tight not letting me catch my breath, to force your will onto me, whereas I, like an abducted virgin maiden, reluctantly yield to the wish of the stronger, a demand of the more powerful, long of the more superior, the  oath of the boldest. This is how I want you to meet me. Until till then I shall remain laden with chestnuts not given away, pregnant with blades of grass not given as presents and their bending that leave trodden, futile spots. There I shall hide before the deluge, growing into the grass, growing among the chestnuts, turning into a tree crown among the deep green leaves, rounding into chestnut beads, oaking in the shackles of oak trunks and thus wait for the midnight, for the magic to end, for my prince to turn up right after another glorious battle against Moorish Spaniards, under the arabesque sediments of hundred-years long memories, under the horizontal lines in the blueprint of pre-Christian pagan basilicas and vertical lines of church naves, having nothing to do with navigation, caught in the ornaments of a cluster saints carved in stones and vines of gothic grapes connecting and uniting them into its own world. I do not want any Christ’s passion, I only want good-hearted saints all resembling Santa Clauses in shiny wrappings around chocolate and sweets that have already been given to children.

I want you to give me such a chocolaty Santa Claus, in a golden–red wrapper, rustling, silky paper requiring a specially careful handling in order not to tear it to pieces; I want you to give it to me so I can cherish it, and cherish and cherish it, as long as I do not feel like eat it passionately, that chocolaty, sweet Santa Claus moulded from a bitter cooking chocolate and really not tasty at all. And I want you to give me a Santa Claus decoration so I can put it on the top of a Christmas tree and it shall preside there until after the New Year’s Day, when the tree should be taken down and presents forgotten. Once again I want a winter of a dotted coat and forgotten galoshes; and I want a poor weather for the paradise birds; and I want you to touch me secretly while passing by, I want others to weave tales about us, about the dirty, forbidden relationship; and I want your voice to become a low tenor again, as low and as velvety it can become; I want you to defeat all the Moors; I want you to send those letters a Jewish woman from Cairo had written to her relatives in the US. And I want, I want, I want! Over the period I keep delivering chestnuts, my summer children I conceived with a stray-wind, though I had not known him full nine years as I had known you. I shall give you a chestnut, that is a promise, I shall not forget; I shall not oversee it while taken a walk in autumn, through the ponds of autumn rain, by the road. I shall give you a chestnut, that is a promise, I shall not forget.

I will tell you a story I recently read in one of those ancient, wise Chinese books in which emperors have such nice dreams while wizards help them fervently. Wizards of dreams, elves of dreaming, witch-doctors of sleeping. How cosy it is to be sleeping while the autumn rain is drizzling. I will tell it to you while you are gone, to you who told me after eight years of non-acquaintance I had not changed a bit, I looked the same as when I was twenty-five, just the same as when you were twenty-three, when we met, at the time of those springs, summers, encounters and departures, short and long coffees, your strong and my bland drinks. So, I look the same, I have not changed t all, no, not in the slightest, I look the same (perhaps even better?). And you…Well, you have changed, you have matured, have grown older – I can see the signs in your white lined beard, in your voice which has grown grey, in your views that have altered. My views have altered as well, the windows have been shut, the horizons screened, the wide expenses forgotten. The mountains are not blue anymore but have turned grey, grey with old-age. My street in the suburbs is now completely finished, new buildings have been erected, with new tenants and new faces. I did not meet you there either, I had not thought of you for full eight years – only occasionally, with my emotions perplexed and memories blurred (I still have no clue as to who used to call me so persistently and anonymously, at all times of day and night – it was not you, I am sure of it, I can feel it in my soaking wet bones and marshy body, I can figure it out in the sounds of the receiver, never a long distance call, never from abroad, but from a stupid collective gossip storehouse, a warehouse of intrigues and underground, underwater, subconscious and unconscious thoughts in whirls of boredom and wasted years, thrown down the drain – this is where the sounds came from and wrong numbers on a daily basis. Was it a pervert curiosity - what she was doing?; sick minds – has she spent the day with him again?; sick pestering – we have not seen them together at school; unhealthy interest – we must know everything; spinster’s intuition – she is a bit nervous today; annihilated livelihood – they may have broken up; tedious piercing of my sinuses; I am bored, I am bored, echoes in my clinking receiver).

I shall tell the story, the Chinese lamp  hanged on the ceiling of Tibetan temples. “The night is called Judas / arriving with the lanterns / from the Chinese picture book / and plays trick on memories./ Every memory is a lantern/ a light for spring, / a light for roses, / a light for love./ But the night brings death, / death and truth.” I had written down these lines a long time ago, and now I am copying them for you and stealing them secretly away, really longing to say below them “these are my lines, I have dedicated them to him”, and enter the history of modern poetry, like Marina Tsvetaeva who stole a line from Sonyechka, one of her own heroines. I should like to steal that line – I wrote it down a long ago, I do not know who had written it, who the author is, but despite everything proscribed in the history of modern poetry, I dedicate to you. I dedicate it to you who look so similar to those bearded faces from the history of modern Russian poetry, toYevtushenko and Yevgeny Onegin, (as I imagine him, and he really looks like you) to the shot Pushkin, suicidal Yesenin, hunted Mayakovsky and all those characters from the Karamazov Brothers in which Dostoevsky crucifies himself between epileptic seizures and schizophrenic experiences of his split consciousness, so fiercely it throws him to his knees before icons in a sacred ecstasy, without really believing in God. He believes only in Ivan Ivanoviches and Pavel Pavloviches and their idiotic correspondence where nobody understands who is writing to whom and what about, the point is to keep correspondence going, for Dostoevsky does not believe in God; he believes in Raskolnikov’s social justice that turns into a collapsed building, split into two, and this is why contemporary Raskolnikovs loot robbed and abandoned buildings, cages of small and insignificant prophet birds of social justice, bedrooms of small Lyermontovs who write of such unjust wars as is vendetta, for we always involve blood – we know not of bloodless vengeance nor could they be considered vengeance but papers blotted with ink, which is nothing, absolutely nothing, ink is thinner than blood, and so is water, this is what we believe and therefore we fight relentlessly, we are haunted by historic memories, just as I am by Tsvetaeva’s Sonyechka. The stolen line, this is where it all began, it all began there. Forgive me, you have already taken up all the features of all characters of all romantic enthusiasts whose life is nothing compared to a single line entering the history of modern poetry, perhaps a single line for a whole life, but it should be written down, let it remain in a school book for children to memorize it and spell it badly remembered and barely comprehended; it does not matter, it all began with a line, everything begins with lines, and you have already turned into Raskolnikov, while I have turned into an unhappy Sonya following you to a labour camp in the deserted North, called the Siberia; how many exiled and murdered souls – do they like shadows haunt all the bureaucratic wealthy offspring of crooked ideas of Stalin’s purge? They say Gorky was murdered as well; they saturated walls of his rooms, particularly those in his study, with a poison that slowly, very slowly, unnoticeably in the shadows of evaporation, fumed and poisoned thoughtful Gorky in whose work “Mother” all women had been embodied, whose Mother is each and every mother in this world. Thus he was murdered, unnoticeably, his death seemed to be of natural causes but he was poisoned with poisonous fumes of his poisonous study. What an irony! Did he actually put poison in the minds of people, filled wise heads with lethal ideas so that he had to die poisoned, curled up and exhausted, with a venomous pen in his hand? What a love for justice, what an enthusiasm with deadly ideas! The others died in other ways, but I do not want everybody to vanish without a trace; I see them in you, I become one with them in a kiss, I heal them with herbs of my memories, I steal their verses and write them for you. No, I do not wish them to die leaving no trace, I resurrect them by remembering them; I even lit a candle in Moscow – a blasphemous act as Dostoevsky does not believe in God, he only ruthlessly crucifies his characters in the torments of Christ’s passion, in the ashes of suspicions in burnt and pierced minds. He becomes their obsession with his power of resurrecting-out-of-the-pen, as I would like to resurrect stolen lanterns from the Chinese picture book and light them for you, to prevent Judas the traitor from coming here, to avoid the last supper, to prevent Last Supper from being eaten, not to crucify Christ, not let God’s will, to avoid the flood and not let you never been seen again. There is Noah’s Arc, that is my prayer with the Chinese lanterns from all Chinese books and all Japanese cranes; I shall cut them out again to heal these late autumnal rains in the peak of a summer; I hope to resurrect you among the scattered sheets of paper on the non-poisoned desk. They say Svetlana Stalin was exiled and found guilty by just being born, they say she is dying in a remote English suburbs, in an inn full of foreigners, exiled from Russia, exiled from Russian emigration, cursed within her own family, forgotten in her letters, isolated from any communication, the wretched Svetlana Stalin. Thus we all die from the hands of our fathers, we drive our characters to steal, loot, burn and commit suicides, like torn apart Raskolnikov by Dostoevsky, like you and me, separated, lonely, un-met in the peak of a summer. Yet I shall steal another line for you, I shall transform into Marina Tsvetaeva and become history of modern poetry. “Good bye, my darling, good bye”, but I shall write it in ink, I do not want it to change into “Good bye, forever and ever good bye”, as Pushkin wrote in a chapter of his Yevgeny Onegin, I cannot remember exactly which one, but it shall not happen like that, it must not turn out like that, summer will fade away and die for good, this summer of 1995; but autumn will follow and we shall meet again. “Good bye”, just “Good bye”, no forever, no ever, no never. We shall certainly not call our daughter Svetlana, she might be exiled – names bear omens, the power of names extends to our destiny. Therefore I do not utter your name, therefore I do not call you. I do not want to curse you, I do not want others to recognize you. I had rather called you Yevgeny Onegin, he was long forgotten; he is barely mentioned in school books, spelt in history lessons, written awkwardly in forewords of new editions. I wonder how many times had he been published, like Judas u their thoughtful forewords, like Iscariot u their knowledgeable papers without referring to the verses and with romantic spirit vanishing like poisonous fumes evaporating from the walls of Gorky’s study. They do not publish anything on Stalin and they persecute Svetlana. Utter righteousness, pure realism, honest truthfulness. The dead are being betrayed, again and again, the living are atoning for the dead. Settling the debts, clear balance, a true economy of levelled lives nobody knows where they had been buried. I ask of you to carry out economic analysis of the following accounting: how many murdered writers are there per readers who murdered them to spell their verses? Please, do it for me, I will feel at peace knowing there is a kind of mathematical logic in it all. Until then, do remain my Yevgeny Onegin, the way I imagine him to be, quite the way you look.

So, I shall tell you a magical story from the Chinese picture book, form one of the wise Chinese books; I will not prophet from the Book of Change, I do that only secretly, I do not speak of it, nor about the Gipsy woman on a Moscow street who jumped before me from an alley and cried “There are changes awaiting you, wait, there are great changes awaiting you!” I did not take a notice of her, just as I never had before, yet now I am sorry, so sorry, and I would like to return to that Moscow street; I need her to tell me my destiny, to read my palm, to tell me if you are the Yevgeny Onegin the poor Svetlana in love will finally meet at a reception, already married and of faded infatuation, a simple small town girl with an unblemished soul, longing for a worldly dandy and writing him a passionate, desperate letter “I do apologize for writing to you…”, which he pays no attention to, yet later he regrets it. Are you the Yevgeny Onegin this Svetlana is longing for? Will she meet you, are you her great change that is awaiting her? This is what I would like to know but I failed to ask Russian Gipsy woman in time, and now I dream of her, I keep looking for her in Moscow streets. That is why I stretch my arms to random passers-by and to raindrops in Zagreb, Zagreb immersed into a late autumnal rain. You know how it goes with Gipsy fortune tellers, and the same applies to Kairos – you barely grab a lock of their hair and they are gone! Meanwhile, you please keep waiting for this and next summer. May it be a tailor made summer, may it be a tailor made autumn, let the coat be tailor made for winter, let it all be tailor made and final.

Here, I will finally tell you the magical, incredible and surely mystical story. I imagine it as torn out of a wise Chinese book and drawn in equally magical and wise Chinese picture book in which I put the stolen line of an unknown poet. I do not know if he broke into the history of modern poetry, but he certainly did into my diary and into a letter to you; let it be a comfort if it is sorry for its unrecorded history, if it feels sorry and cries bitterly over its failure to enter history, even if only modern history that is fickle, unsettled and uneasy with its own records and notes, as uneasy as your students whose complaints, saturated with bitter tears, you read and give them high school marks. Just like at half-term of winter 1987. With a final dot. Damn the dots! Let us rather have commas after these years of ours; let us put a final dot after this summer in order to remember and never forget like the one for whom Muscovite Nights has been sung, for that love-stricken soul passionately sings “ Be good, don’t you forget those Muscovite nights…”. And what about him, has he already forgotten them, have they passed so fast, have they drained out of their silvery beds of the River Moscow? There I went for walks, I remember real, colourful ducks, floating on the Moscow; I remember the steep shore of the river with no embankment (the lovers have nowhere to hide in Moscow, that vast city has no places to hide). Wretched Stalin had the  trees with thick crowns cut down all over the Muscovite outskirts to prevent outlaws, never failing to scheme against him, from hiding there and dreaming and plotting conspiracies. What is a single head of his in comparison with all cut off, shot through, disfigured with fever and skin diseases, poets’ heads never failing to produce more verses and lines, “I live as a cuckoo in a clock; they wind me and I cuckoo...”; and then add bravely, right in the spirit of hungry, unbreakable, spiteful and utterly literary poetic freedom: “You know, this is a fate I would wish only for an archenemy.” I translate them, quickly, writing down in the spirit of poetic freedom, not to forget it, not to let it be forgotten; let us stay recorded if only as cuckoos in an old clock, like poor elders coming out at the strike of an hour, each of them alone, never meeting each other on their sliding tours, along their chiselled grooves, in their separate houses. They are so close, almost like touching each other, rather old and decrepit, with colours that faded away just like their own long forgotten youth, matured and worn out (I do not know whether they are line-assembled, in a factory, in moulds, in a series of numbers or carefully chiselled by a patient hand – that would be so much better, it would then resemble some human destinies, unhappy, unlucky, lonely, forgotten), alone, completely alone, at the prearranged hour, at the precise strike; everything is anticipated, known, well-balanced, in harmony, yet distant, discordant, disharmonic. An unfairy fairytale, a beastie fable – nothing but beastliness in a beastie abode of beastie thoughts of a chiseller, of a carpenter, for decorations in our kitchens, for decorations in our homes, yet we are so alone in front of our clocks. We are so indifferent about the fate of already decrepit, faded figurines and we do not care about their destiny nor do we take any notice of them – they are but decoration, mere decoration for our disharmonies, roughness, feebleness after wind gusts, below sediments of age, under the blows of heavy storms of fate. Thus the destiny likes to play with us – giving us a clock to measure time, adding some destiny of ephemerality and forgetting, then giving out some oracle signs of our separateness and predestination to nothing. We are merely figurines in an old clock, we count its strikes and measure the ephemerality; we measure our increase in immortality and how far we are to the eternity; our immortality for our eternity – yes, I’d love to trade it; perhaps I would do it the other way round, perhaps having put myself into your reversibly proportional account you will have finished in three days only as usual although you had whole three months. What an acceleration of time, what a calming down of storm, what an overload of belatedness. You see, I am always late, as though I did not have a watch on my wrist, that nice one (looking like a bracelet for I am never properly dressed up, I never look properly); or as though there was no clock in the kitchen to remind me I may be late, I might be late for centuries, I may have been late for the whole eight years, awaiting for the ninth to pass in a late autumn overdue of early blossoms and belated awakenings of oranges attached to the ceilings and floors and tiles and walls of my lonely girly room. It reminds me I am late with an early birth, I am late with collecting last years chestnuts and now I am early to give them birth – too early for your arrival, too late for your departure. A though the time itself is playing with me, will not let me be; it is asymmetrical and disproportional, with corners and splits, vertically standing like a sword above the head – my duties are still pending to be carried out. “I gained my Master’s degree long time ago”, you said, “and it turned out as good as a doctor’s”, you added. I had started writing my papers long before you – can you remember me putting down my ideas – and now you have more credits than me, your analyses, written within three days, are absolutely brilliant, unseen in the whole history of economy, while I am seeing late hours out, writing letters I am never going to send - which are not even letters. I am spending time which is sometimes late, sometimes early, like an un-tuned piano, like a disrupted moonlight, like sun eclipse, like windows with blinds pulled down and mountains turned grey from the old-age, like altered views, like forgotten expanses, like an 8-year-void in a heavy embrace without your lightness of focused thoughts, summarized in late summer oranges in the midst of a scorching heat, like lions light-headed in a passionate embrace of African heat – they do not dream of rains, only heated balls and hanging circles of Sun plates, lining up throughout a desert with every sand grain being a small sun, scorching with its torrid heat, emanating own heat and melting the air into indiscernible shapes of melted, burning iron. Loose sand is the hardest floor there is, it is the red-hot coal which Bedouins die of thirst on and camels heavily descend their humps and extend their tough necks – there, this is what desert is like when you are away in summer, indefinite one, for every missed and belated year. Lions do not need embankments and dams, shelters and sanctuaries; they mate passionately on their royal thrones wherever they may be, which is why lion cubs are so unrestrained and playful, like baby rulers of their own planets where they cannot tame anybody and where they do not cheat on the Little Prince with tricky promises, but they genuinely rule, it is in their blood, nothing can be done about it. Let them not fall into a Stalinist slumber, let them not be affected by Khrushchev-like wantonness and Brezhnev-like nothingness, let them not die in Siberia, let them not cut tree crowns, let them not destroy jungles and an easy prey of swift hinds and light-tailed gazelles, do not let them disappear from the face of the Earth, do not let me forget giraffes haunted Mayakovsky relentlessly kept painting after the Cold Shower, after the last futile fight. Do please defeat Moorish Spaniards and be faithful to the samurai code; never let yourself be tamed, do not trust a deceitful tongue of a sly fox’s persuasions; please, be a winner in the battle only once more and come back empowered and bolder than ever, in autumn, and I shall give you 505 sweets, those red sweets for the social justice. Lions must survive in your southern wilderness, they are the only kind you can keep company with, they are the only surviving kind in the southern wilderness with whom you can communicate with eyes and fairy long fingers whose rivets leave clear trace on soft spots between the fingers (you used to do it all the time, I can remember it from the times eight years ago, the same firm, riveted hug of fairy long fingers – I still wear their lines). Please come a winner from this battle; win honours for the Spanish knights, and the crown of a Chinese emperor, and Bedouin rulers, then come back into the refuge near the Sava River, I shall be waiting for you every day, every evening; I shall be a maiden from Kosovo pouring some fresh water for a wounded hero, to her Prince, to all princes in heroic battles. Please do defeat all courageous warriors and bold heroes, and do not trust fox’s persuasions; do not surrender to the first breath after the battle, do not falter while hunting lions, your only friends and do not forget Bedouins for they will die of thirst while you are away. Do not leave your southern wilderness; do finally come back, I am going to die, I am going to wither away, fade as an overripe orange, die as an un-watered rose, fade out as a ray of moonlight, silvery and shrivelled as Borghes’s “Rhonda in a soft semi-darkness of blindness”. Please, pour some fresh water for me, as if I were a desert Bedouin, a rose in a vase, a dying summer. Please be my Little Prince and I shall be your Kievan princess who has not given herself to anybody, sacrificing her virginity for Kievan principality in the fight against cursed Swedes; I shall be your Muscovite princess ho was burnt at a stake of a burning Moscow before the empire was established; I shall be your naked swimmer, your Naked Maya, your lioness and your hind, just come back from the southern wilderness; get finally fed up with it and long for dull autumnal Zagreb, intersect your paths for me to cross over like Colossus from Rhodes, in a single step, and please remember my phone number and make a call from a phone booth, the public one with a limited duration time; let the students not hear it, let it all remain secretive, hidden, stolen for an hour or two, an immortality or two. There it is. And now I am going to tell you a story I promised a long time ago.

The story goes like this: there lived an elf, or rather not an elf but a common youth among other Chinese commoners. He felt like learning a secret skill of windsurfing, with no sails, with no assisting tools, in self-teaching, windy like the wind, flying like a flier on the wind. And he came to a magi, the Great Teacher of all skills and he begged to teach him a secret skill of windsurfing, with no sails, with no assisting tools, in self-teaching, windy like the wind, flying like a flier on the wind. The latter replied: “Your eagerness is too strong, your keenness would drawn you downwards rather then upwards even if it were but a metre above the ground. Therefore you had rather kept quiet and watch me, the way I do and teach. Thus the elf, or rather not the elf but a common youth among other Chinese commoners, sat by his teachers feet in his teacher’s kitchen, in his teacher’s dwellings for a year. And then he commenced begging him again to teach him windsurfing in the wind, as a barefoot flier in the wind. The teacher thus replied: “Your wish to become a flier in the wind without a vessel is too strong, like an upward breeze, a soft feather, yet heavy as a rock. You had sooner dive like a stone into a rift than fly but mere two metres aloft. Therefore you sit down next to me how I teach a secret skill of flying.” I the poor apprentice sat down for another year, not saying a word and keeping to himself, having wound up in silence, having turned bluish from the cold and weakened by thirst and hunger. So another year passed and he addressed the Teacher with a plea to teach him skill of flying aloft and surfing in the wind for that was his greatest wish and he shall not decline from it, and he shall beg relentlessly for as long as he lived only to learn how to fly in the wind and sail in the wind with no tools, as light as a feather, drawn by the wind wherever he felt like. The Teacher replied: “You are begging me too ardently; therefore I cannot grant your wish for you are as heavy as a millstone and you would fall heavily into the abyss before barely having separated your feet from the ground. The flying is no good for you, I shall not teach it to you.” And the boy spent another three years with the Teacher, keeping silent, watching, ardently begging, waiting for a slightest sign, a hint of advice if not the whole pack, a mite of a lesson if not the whole secret. Thus he kept watching, thus he kept sitting; thus he kept silent until one day he flew into the swooping heights; he separated from the ground and flew up on the wind. He commenced floating on the wind wherever he felt like it, flying along and across the currents of the free skies, opened up heavens, as light as a feather and as heavy as a millstone when he wanted to descend towards the ground, put some additional pressure in his flight not to get scattered in the wind, as light as a feather and as heavy as a millstone. Thus he became a young man, or rather not a young man but an elf and mastered the skill of flying on the wind. 

And now I think, if I spent eight years to forget about you, and in the ninth I remembered you, not changing for a bit in the meantime, as you yourself said so, and if I met you again in the ninth summer and if I wait for you in summer and autumn days, I may fly up on the wind on the first day of autumn, perhaps I might master the secret skill of kissing despite all the winds, perhaps in your arms I may achieve immortality in the eternity, in your kiss I could become eternal in the immortality; I may conquer all the expanses and all the deserts, I may survive all desert storms and outlive the sun eclipse. My faith into the disbelief could surpass all doubtfulness, and my unwavering perseverance of believing in miracles may make through this long, eternal-immortal summer, miracles may win and I meet you on the very first day of autumn, right at the dawn of an autumnal season; I may find that dotted coat, as you call it, and I may live for another year at the rims of the town, in the suburbs, at the bus stops, at a collection points of all collecting. The miracle may come true – wonders turn into reality and I meet you somewhere underway, I bow to the ground and I pick you as the roundest chestnut a summer has grown and autumn picked. I may see the miracle like a Flier in the Wind and survive the orange summer, hanging over my lonely windows, an overripe apple decayed in my bed and a withered rose of the Name of the Rose on my pillow free of scents of mature bodies, with no passion in innocent loneliness, under the pressure of chastity, forced to the lack of love, in innocent lewdness of scattered imagination, in unclean expectation of our meeting. The miracle may come true and I will survive the summer. Like a Flier in the Wind, those five years of silence, hunger, thirst and ardent pleas to the Relentless Teacher as his rightful name is. I may become as light as a feather, as heavy as a millstone, as round as a chestnut, as whispering as a rain, as ripe as an orange, as appealing as an apple, as innocent as a virgin. The miracle might come true and I might live to the autumn. Concerning my perseverance in believing in miracles, the ninth year will the final year. Final but followed by a comma, then another comma, the whole bunch of commas. I shall keep my magical scores as the Flier in the Wind did his flights, I shall become a secret notary of both my and your flights into unknown expanses and unexplored wilderness along the Sava River, refuges for forbidden lovers; I shall become a notary of my own chastity and I shall always go out alone and receive you secretly, after  everybody has fallen asleep and when the lantern from Chinese picture books have gone out and I manage to steal another verse and hear through the grapevine another Brezhnev-like intrigue from emigration circles. I may turn into a Jew with sharp senses for all valuables and worthless odds and ends of our life, I may turn into a Bedouin and set out into homeland deserts and become a ruler of all Bedouins in their friendship with lions, and I may turn into a pregnant lioness and give birth to a Little-Lion-on-the-Desert-Throne, and I may turn into a Kosovo girl and quench the thirst of the Prince Marko, and I may fly aloft like a Flier in the Wind. And above all, my passionate desire is to be your common lover, to transform into a simple small-town girl with a pure heart, into Svetlana, into Sonyechka, into Marina Tsvetaeva; and to write down that stolen line again and again and again in a never-ending row; then to let you count them and add and multiply and divide to your liking, and to let you everything and nothing, awaiting a miracle and meeting you again in autumn. Then I shall believe in all miracles and I shall never overlook and overhear a Russian Gypsy in the streets of Moscow; I shall forget every line for the rest of my life though they mean a life, and I shall be a lover, as dull as Yevtushenko’s “unloved faithful wife”, and I shall not be your wife but give birth only to round chestnuts. I will not be tedious, I promise you that, like buzzing of coarse voices in the receiver and I shall not abandon you, and I shall completely forget about you. Jus come here. I am waiting for you. The whole summer. And another day in autumn. And then I will die in Marques-like death of a hundred and one years of solitude, I will release a breath of Borghes suicidal infatuation into diamond cutting, I will wither away completely and there will be no one I can give my chestnuts lying about in the puddle of autumnal rain. If only there is a miracle and you turn up on the first day of autumn at my door. I believe in miracles. I believe in wonders. I believe in the Flier in the Wind, I believe in autumn. And I will not die, I will wait for another day, or two, or three, and all other to come, in a regular order, a simple linear succession in the increasing progression of years, all the way to eternity, to immortality, to never, ever, forever. For good. That I know. I do not really care about anything else anyway. 

 

TRANSFORMATIONS

 

A sombre, grey morning broke over one of suburban areas of Zagreb. It seemed to have hesitated to peek through the closed windows and sneak in the room where Lidija Sucic was sleeping, tossing and turning in her bed having sunk into a nightmare. The earth and the sky seemed to have melted into indiscernible, chaotic greyness where only different hues of darkness and brightness, of shadows and poor, subdued illumination separated the heavenly realm from the one on the earth. And as though all common sounds of a morning – brakes squealing, cars horning, children crying and yelling in their open resentment against early journey to their kindergartens or schools, business women talking, housewives chatting while being left alone for another day at home and who can tell the difference between weekdays and weekends only by a short intermission in their monotonous lives when their quotidian routines are interrupted by bitter arguments with their husbands and children as if they were trying to make up for the lost time on weekdays and so refill the void of their family lives by restarting their quarrels and reproaches. And then a sharp, resounding ringing tone of a mobile phone echoing along the corridor and loud music ever coming down from the second floor, from the flat occupied by teenagers and who like to declare their own right to their own lives and to confirm it every morning by making incredible noise and tumult after their scorned parents have left the tranquillity of their abode in order to earn the living and fulfil all the needs of their offspring. And then again, after the busy roaring and hurrying, after the flats and corridors and doorways have come to life, peace and quiet assumed their throne again, as one would expect in a quiet suburbia, far from the city noise and connected to its heart only by fragile threads of random lines of public transportation, far from the boiling innards devouring its own inhabitants, almost a million of them in Zagreb always hurrying and scurrying, always on the run, as though they expected when their racing around ceased to achieve ultimate peace in a promise land, far from the dullness of Zagreb at the beginning of November. And indeed, this morning nothing seemed to be separating the skies and the earth, apart from brighter and darker hues of greyness pouring down like melted lead onto the streets, squares, buildings, trams and suburbs of Zagreb.

And Lidija was dreaming. She had drowned into a dream that was incessantly repeating in a sequence of scenes, just like in a film, in a row of images that kept coming back like chorus of a well-known tune all radio stations keep playing innumerate times, and however you turn or whatever button you press, you never fail to hear the same chorus, the same song, the same lyrics, replaying into eternity. Thus Lidija had that unusual dream as though she was watching images and scenes on a big screen, pictures on the border of fiction and fantasy, yet at the same time so incredibly real and almost tangible and if she only reached out her hand she seemed to be able to touch them. And though, while lingering on the thin line between the dreams and reality, she tried to chase away those images from her drowsy consciousness, they kept coming back onto the screen of her dreams, they emerged again and again and there was nothing that could drive them away.

There was nothing particularly going on in Lidija’s life. All of her dreams, apart from the one she had at the beginning of November, on the verge of dark heaven and clinging to the thin line of dreams and reality, well, they all came to noting, they were thrown overboard, rejected and repealed, they fell down the abyss of cruel reality. For example, Lidija had dreamed of accomplishing great and brilliant career of a literary theoretician at university, if not exactly there, then at least in some of literary institutions or societies. After two of her articles were rejected, her first attempts to climb up to the pedestal of literary science, Lidija stumbled, gave up and took up writing poetry. That was rejected as well. She applied for the post of a Junior Assistant at university but they chose a young go-getter who had written two reviews and a single article, while two Lidija’s articles that had been rejected and her unpublished poems helped her shatter her dreams of a great career and send it right down to the very bottom of Dante’s inferno, to the very core, to the darkest circle inhabited by those vanity-obsessed and those driven by untamed ambition. After her dreams of climbing up to the very peaks of science turned out to be futile and a complete failure, Lidija started considering and fancying about a big, happy family with at least three children and a husband worshipping her. After a few unsuccessful relationships with just ordinary men who did not even consider a great adventure called “a big, happy family”, for it implied putting huge efforts into acquiring fortune to support such a bunch of kids, and then going to parental meetings at schools, and shopping for shoes that would turn into ashes and dust on the feet of their playful children after barely a week, and Lidija was not exactly their dream woman they would willingly go through the torment and horrors for. And so Lidija gave up that dream as well. She found a job in a secondary school as Croatian teacher, and the years went by and she advanced in her early thirties, then mid-thirties, late-thirties, over to early forties. Lidija was so fed up with all that repetition of lectures on Croatian literature she had long ago memorized by heart, and her whole life seemed to have turned into that particular morning in November when nothing separated the darkness of the earth from the gloominess of the skies. She had spare time in excess, but what both all housewives and business women living in the same building like her would long for while rushing like crazy from the market to the kindergarten, then to the kitchen and the dining room, and back to the kindergarten, meeting their tired and exhausted, hungry and thirsty husbands with broad smiles, or while busy career women wildly drew up contracts as favourable as possible for their companies, making phone calls all day long and rushing to business meetings, and then to beauty parlours for recuperation and beauty treatments as to use their female graces to become immensely successful in the world of business and to stay competitive with the young, female labour of their competitors, then run from their lovers, also fulfilling a business purpose, to their husbands who keep complaining about being neglected and threatened to leave their frenzied family nests, which they long ceased to be in the first place, well that spare time, that immeasurable haven of leisure all women longed for since the beginning of time, this is what Lidija had in abundance, much more than she ever wanted or asked for. She did try to imitate her neighbours and her school friends, who were busy from dawn to dusk, chaotic and frenzied, she always tried to pursue an important work or chore – revising her teaching materials, reading and rereading literary reviews, broadening her knowledge, studying  teaching methodology, didactics and pedagogy. However those lasted but a week or two, and then she would realize all her accumulated knowledge was useless, futile, and no educational method is applicable to the bunch of kids and teenagers, scientifically called ‘adolescents’, obsessing about American films, dreaming about hoarding money and fortune, about careers of business people travelling all over the world and to its every corner, no matter how far or hidden that might be, filling their pockets with money regardless their shape and colour, accompanied by luscious beauties they fall before their feet while they give them expensive jewellery and take them to exotic places. The girls had similar dreams, only a bit differently painted according to their sex; they dreamed of careers of famous models, singers, actresses or successful business women who cannot make up their minds on which lover to choose for the night.

With a hidden sorrow Lidija watched those ambitious and self-absorbed faces who kept dreaming, fancying, making great plans for a brilliant future. And then she would remember her own dreams she had made sitting at the same desks, only twenty-five of thirty years earlier, when other scents were floating through the air, when times were different, and so were her dreams on literary theory and a big, happy family. She thought those heads with purple and orange highlights, with incredible and most unbelievable haircuts and decorated with flashy earrings and shimmering chains did not seem to hide dreams she would be able to comprehend and feel for, for her dreams were unpretentious and ordinary – well, what is there to a scientific career and a happy family that might appeal to the youngsters, who by the time they have barely reached maturity and left their school desks, they had already tried all forbidden fruit there is. What could they find attractive in her dreams after they have already tried Lidija could not even dream about? The world has really gone through some thorough changes and there are only few among the young people dreaming of scientific careers, and even then they are mostly money driven, thinking on how to make money through science and turn them into real estates on the coast of Adriatic Sea, or for that matter any other sea in the world, keep pending on their mind. If any of the youngsters really care about the science, they must be making plans how to make their way to a scholarship for the States, or at least a European country, and then get a tenure somewhere where there are profuse donations pouring in, some of it dripping into their own pockets.

But Lidija keeps dreaming her own dreams and her dreams only. If the old saying ‘Like people, like philosophy they choose’ is any worth, then ‘Like people, like dreams they have’ must be worth something, too. At least, by analogy. But there must be at least a pinch of truth. For a dream such as Lidija had on that dull morning in November, is a kind of dream none of her students would dream, not her housewives or busy women neighbours, not even her own colleagues from school. For Lidija keeps dreaming her own dreams and her dreams only, and this one is unusual for not only the way images keep coming one after another like in a science fiction film, but also for its hidden symbolic meaning Lidija is about to attempt to reveal. But we shall come to that later.

Lidija is dreaming. At the beginning of her dream that has emerged from nowhere, Lidija is sneaking to the building where she used to live when she was a child, and then a young girl, until the time she started studying. She is returning to the place which used to be her home in her younger days. The building stands right there where it used to while she was still living in it. It is a rather unusual building. The front side faces the main street, one of the busiest streets in this town and that side looks pretty nice. Actually, the only unusual thing about it is that a narrow lane goes right through it as though melting into the main road. The lane goes through two doorways separated by a high wall, and vanishes into the main road. Behind the building, at its back, there is a rather small courtyard covered with gravel, while the yard itself is rimmed with her neighbours’ garages. These were rare at the time when she was young and cars did not cram like they do today lining up closely to each other and taking every, even the slightest space of the yard they can squeeze into. The lane, melting with the main road and running through two doorways, bends and curbs, and if two cars met they would not be able to go past each other, but they would have to manoeuvre backwards and forwards in order to squeeze one next to the other. Lidija found herself in front of this very building. She used to live here, on the second floor at number 39. But she does not walk towards what used to be her doorway, but towards the other doorway, separated by a high wall. Actually, on the fifth floor at number 37 her friend used to live. She was her best friend in their childhood and when they were girls, or rather they used to be best friends until she stole her boyfriend, the very first one in her life. That relationship did not last long, but Lidija can still remember her friend’s treason. She can still remember vividly as though it all happened yesterday. And now, almost three decades later, she is coming back to take vengeance on her best friend for she betrayed her and stabbed her in the back, and her wound has not healed yet. Sometimes even a fresh drop of blood falls onto the floor. Just like in thrillers, Lidija has turned into a murderer and unnoticed got into the hallway, through the gate next to hers. Her intention was to kill her friend. The way she did it will remain a secret for her as she is already outside, in the doorway leading to her part of the building. Her parents still live there and she manages to sneak into the building. If there were any hidden eyes, it seemed a good idea, particularly after committing a murder, instead of running away down the road towards her car she parked at the end of the road, only to pass from one doorway to the other. And there, in her own doorway she notices orderly lined pigeon boxes. She pushes her hand into the box with her name on it, and pulls out s letter her father left for their most hateful neighbour from the same doorway. She is gossiping one of their neighbours with another one right now, telling her what the first one said about the one she is just talking to. The letter says someone has left a veil in Lidija’s room. The veil is covering the lamp on the desk, a strange symbol and a letter addressed to Lidija. The letter contains the same strange, threatening symbol. Her father finished the letter with a threat to the despicable neighbour. He wanted her to stop abusing everybody in her surroundings and breaking House Rules that are displayed in a prominent place, just next to the entrance, and especially to leave his daughter alone. Lidija reads the letter, and then shoves it back into the pigeon box. It was time to leave this place for she committed a murder and she must flee. Quietly she creeps out, and in idle, relaxed strides she goes towards her car she parked at the end of the street. Or its beginning, whatever you prefer. She put a lot of effort in her calmness for she has to restrain herself from running and leaving the crime scene. But to her immense surprise, after bending and curbing, the lane transformed into a row of tiny houses, interwoven and interconnected with barely passable corridors and bridges. It reminds her of Venice with its bridges over the canals and its grid of narrow streets. But everything is so crammed here; it seems houses are inhabited by a kind of people from ancient times who eventually managed to settle down in this very place. And Lidija’s red car was nowhere in sight. Lidija decided to go back towards the building when her friend appeared before her, the one she has allegedly murdered and then fled from the crime scene. But, no, her best and at the same time most hateful friend is safe and sound, and above all she knows the secret of the mysterious symbol her father wrote about in his letter. By a mere chance. Lidija discovered the symbol imprinted on her hand and she shows it to her murdered, then resurrected friend. “Yes, right, it is the exact symbol. But you only have a half of it, while the other half belongs to somebody else. The symbol means you will be loved by everybody you meet. Everybody will worship and love you unconditionally”. So Lidija is told by her best and most hateful friend and she simply cannot believe her words. For, just after she murdered her, she resurrected in order to disclose the meaning of this mysterious symbol, and the meaning is miraculous and promising ultimate happiness Lidija had buried long time ago, erased even from her dreams, just as she recently murdered her friend.

To a hidden, subconscious thought – for a mind is always alert though having immersed into a realm of dreams – to an utter happiness awaiting Lidija, the thought of her dreams come true, but in reality not only in her dreams – well, to this newly awaken thought in the crater of fancy, the dream began unravelling at a pace that should be most appropriately called tempo furiosso. The raging dream took Lidija further and further into a frenzied pursuit of the other half of the mysterious symbol, and everything was accelerating, images passed by faster and faster, and during the furious chase after fulfilling her dream so many funny events happened. They were so amazing Lidija could barely believe her eyes – that is if inner sight is not also fast asleep while dreaming, of course. Tamara - that was Lidija’s best and most hateful friend’s name – was running down the street along with Lidija. They raced past line-up of soldiers, marching in threes, and when Tamara and Lidija swiftly went by, the lined-up soldiers mingled with accidental passers-by and made a new single row, a real honorary line of Lidija’s admirers. They were all running after Lidija in a frenzy of a blind worship until the carnival crowds dissipated in the spacious square with a sea dock emerging at its side. Lidija could not explain how sea suddenly appeared in Zagreb, but there were two women sitting on the dock, busy talking or gossiping – it is not really important to go into details. Tamara recognized one of them so she approached her and, Lidija had no idea why, asked where her daughter was. The woman waved her hand casually and pointed her finger towards a side street saying her daughter must be hanging over there. Tamara grabbed Lidija’s sleeve and started dragging her, forcing her to hurry up as to find the girl as soon as possible. “Why are we looking for a girl, not even her mother cares about?”, Lidija asked. “For she is the solution to the riddle”, replied Tamara curtly. And again they started racing and eventually they got in front of a closed high gate made of wrought iron, leading into a rather small courtyard. At the back there was a small house hiding, resembling those from the coastal region – made of heavy, massive grey stones and going up two high floors. There was a boy standing outside the house. Tamara spoke to him “Where is a friend of yours, the one you keep teasing at school?” “She is here”, said the boy in a hesitating voice. “Will you please send for her”, asked Tamara firmly. The boy withdrew into the back of the yard and then came again before Tamara and Lidija, along with the missing girl. To Tamara’s tremendous exaltation and joy she saw the other part of the mysterious symbol flashing in her wrist. The symbol comprised of an oval crossed by two parallel lines. When the symbol is put together it forms four vertical lines and two ovals on both sides.

“There is the symbol”, cried Tamara. And then she spoke again to the boy: “Let us peek into the house”. Dutifully, not forgetting Tamara’s reprimand for teasing the girl, the boy opened the iron gate and let the two women into the yard. They went into an empty stone house, and in a small room they found a hidden diary written by boy’s aunt. There they found the same puzzling symbol they put together after having found the girl. The diary said, in his aunt’s elaborate handwriting, that she had found the symbol in mystical books of ancient wisdom, and she had used it to recapture her husband’s heart after he had left her for another woman. And the prodigal husband did return to the boy’s aunt, again got overwhelmed with lover’s rapture just like at the beginning of their relationship and remained with her for the rest of the life.

“Now you are going to make your dreams come true”, were Tamara’s last words to Lidija before disappearing without any trace.

And the scenery suddenly began to change. Everything began whirling; the stone house with high, iron wrought gates flew aloft disappearing behind the clouds now swooping down over the town by the sea. And the sea started retreating as though it was drawing back into the depths of the earth, and the street was sliding slowly backwards as though somebody was pulling the invisible carpet and rolling it up before putting it back into its place after the ceremony with a high dignitary having walked down the carpet was over, and now he had withdrawn into his world and the carpet was no longer needed. Everything was fading, pulling back into an unknown direction, like when the curtains fall down the end of the play and actors vanish behind it. This time however the curtains did not pull back and the actors did not return to the stage a few more times for the encore; everything went up in a whirl and vanished before Lidija’s eyes. “Oh, well, it was all just a dream, just an illusion, apparition and hallucination”, she thought to herself and again she was in her bedroom palled by the sombre light of November. The skies seemed to have pressed even harder onto the earth, grew gloomier and it was threatening to pour out all clouds and all rain and all snow onto the planet and push this dull city into the abyss of  nothingness.

With a bitter sigh Lidija sat down to her computer. A green light flickered and a message welcoming diligent Internet and email users showed up on the screen. Just as every other morning, Lidija pressed the appropriate key and her emails downloading. There was only one message, and even that one was from a sender unknown to Lidija. “Milan Milic, who the hell might that be?”, wondered Lidija and she started reading the message. It was short, but Lidija’s heart raced after having read a brief, but appealing email, and it dawned on her immediately who the mysterious Milan Milic was, the man whose name she failed to remember at first. The message read: “Dear Lidija, I don’t know if you still remember me, once, a while ago, we were daydreaming of a big happy family. Now I am in Zagreb, although I moved back to Split seven years ago, and I thought we might meet and dream of a big, happy family again. I haven’t forgotten you, Lidija, and I’d like to commence where we stopped, halted by ill fate. Love, Milan.”

Lidija could not believe her own eyes. Milan was one of her most memorable boyfriends, from the time they were both at university! And now, after such a long time, he has written to her, a message with a love touch, a message filled with a fragrance of young people’s dreams; oh, those certainly were great dreams. And he is asking her out, inviting her to a date here in Zagreb! Lidija looked through the window, and suddenly something like a rainbow shimmered in the sky. She fell asleep again, drowned into imagining, into fancying, into dreaming….

This however was not the only surprise of the day. Lidija heard a familiar shuffling outside her front door. Her next-door neighbour would always sign for registered mail addressed to Lidija when she was not in. The neighbour would take her mail, sign up for her and then simply shovel the letter under her door. The same happened that morning. Lidija startled and woke up from her fantasies and head for the door. She pulled out the letter and had a look at the sender’s name: The Literary Institute. “Oh, dear… what now?”, she asked herself while impatiently tearing the envelope open and pulling out a piece of paper. This letter was brief as well, just like the one with a love touch. This however was an official notice. The letter read: “Dear Ms Sucic, we have a pleasure of informing you that your articles were published in the latest issue of the magazine. Therefore we invite you for an interview for the post of an assistant lecturer at our Institute, on Tuesday, 12 November.” At the bottom of the letter there was the name of the Head of the Literary Institute.

A shy rainbow in the gloomy, grey sky suddenly shone with bright light, just like back in those days of the youth when it appeared on the horizon after a soft, spring rain. Lidija felt as though she had gone back in time, back to the happy days of her youth when the whole undiscovered horizon of her own rainbow glittered in her sky. And now again the same rainbow was emerging, turning the sombreness of mature, almost elderly years through the tunnel of that mysterious symbol on the wrist into the reality, with all dreams and wishful thinking of enthusiasm of the youth reaching their fulfilment. Lidija felt like flying aloft into the sky and melting with the rainbow. In the shimmering light of the dreams she curled back into her bed, trying to hide the golden rainbow of fulfilling her dreams in the safety of her chest. The dream faded away into reality, the reality turned again into dreams, and Lidija stirred and stretched in her bed like a raging wild cat, purring in an embrace of the destiny, the source of all her fancy and dreams.

 

***

It hollered, blared like a siren, wailed like a deadly wounded animal. The phone was ringing. Lidija could not tell whether it was a phone in her dreams or that hateful device announcing a piece or two of bad news, a device that regularly ruined her day and sneaked into her nightmares, or into her realty. Where was she, Lidija was wondering, was it night, or a day had already broken, was she still dreaming and now being awoken by the monstrous gadget? But the phone kept crying, and wailing, and howling, and clanking, and jingling. So Lidija was forced out of her warm bed, she stuttered to the hall and picked up the receiver. She answered the phone in hoarse voice for she had not had time to clear up her throat with her morning coffee. Her voice sounded as though the children were playing with tin pots, kicking them around as to make them spin and clink down the street. An angry voice came out of the receiver. It was the school headmaster: “Ms Sucic, what has happened with you? You have missed the first class, and the second has just begun, and you are still missing! Are you ill by any chance?” Now the headmaster’s voice became softer, and sounded rather worried. “The students are waiting for you; I am being tormented how to keep them occupied, what should I give them to do. Would you please be so kind as to give reasons of your failing to come to work?” His voice sounded bossy and annoyed again. Lidija barely managed to utter a lie. She was stuttering while explaining the headmaster how her mother suddenly got ill, and how she had to take her to hospital and had just come home, and that she would start to school at that very moment, and she was really feeling terribly sorry and embarrassed…

Finally the torment of the talking and apologizing to the headmaster was over. For a brief moment Lidija had a look at the window and could see nothing but the dark gloominess, barely separating the sky from the earth in pale hues. There was no rainbow, there was there nothing at all. She only had a dream stretching far into the eternity – for she had wish so. She only wanted to dream and dream and never wake up from her sweet dreams. And now there was another sombre day ahead of her, not differing from her other days, grey as any other day in November, tiresome like the lectures she had long ago learned by heart, hateful like her best and most hateful friend from her younger days. Lidija took a deep breath and had another look through the window, but there was no rainbow, nor would it appear even if it showed up by a miracle after a spring shower when the dreams were reality, not mere ephemeral illusions. A dream is a dream, and reality is reality, Lidija knew that all right; she had known that since the time all her dreams drowned like ships in storm at the open sea.

But then suddenly, Lidija remembered a mysterious Chinese story she had read a long time ago while infatuated with soaking up wisdom from all over the world. The memory was so vivid and she had to smile to herself. The story went like this, Lidija remembered:

 

Once upon a time, says Zhuang Zi, I was

a butterfly for a night and flew contentedly

with my destiny. Then I woke up

and I was Zhuang Zi. Who am I really?

A butterfly dreaming of being Zhuang Zi,

or Zhuang Zi imagining he was a butterfly?

 

Lidija knew the moral of the story as well: Metaphysical meaning of the fable has been summed up in the question ‘who am I?’, as Zhuang Zi is asking himself, ‘are there two true individualities in my case? Has there been a real transformation of one individuality into another?’ The moral is: ‘Neither. There have been two unreal transformations of a single and unique being within the worldly law which says all beings are one in all their forms.’

“Well, if this is the case”, thought Lidija, dreams and reality are no more than two sides of the same coin. And she hurried as not to be late for the third class, passing through the gloominess the town had sunk into after a dull, grey morning had broken over a suburban part of Zagreb. It seemed to have been hesitating to peek through the windows into the room where Lidija had been sleeping having fallen into a nightmare and stirring restlessly in her bed. 

 

THE MOST PRECISE CLOCK IN THE WORLD

 

And I shall travel to Venice once again. I shall definitely go there by ship, on that giant liner, on that steaming steamer. And first I shall travel all the known, and then the unknown world, just like Marco Polo did, and then I shall discover Venice, a completely unknown continent, the utterly mysterious Venetian world. And I shall rediscover it, from the scratch and all over again, while you will be waiting patiently and not in the least faithfully for me to return from an uncharted Chinese continent of Venetians lagoons. You will remain ignorant of what lagoons are until I will have revealed it to you, and you will be entirely oblivious how Spain can be discovered in Venice, and how languages are not even remotely alike, with no interpreters whatsoever, and how you need to listen to the chatter of the crowds at St Marco’s Square in order to distinguish that particular, that single, unique voice, familiar among all the others, my own voice calling out your name, saturated with yearning. “Hey, I’m right here, on the foreign continent of Venetian lagoons, can you hear me, can you hear me…” with my voice perishing and fading away, as not to wake up dormant prisoners that have been rotting in the dungeons below Venetian lagoons for centuries, and who before being locked away eagerly prayed at Santa Maria della Salute for a long and healthy life – they were sentenced only to six years and not a single day more, and yet they never get to see the sunlight again. This is how I am going to do it, I shall call out in my completely faint voice “Hey, Santa Maria della Salute, are you still waiting for me, please, keep on waiting, for otherwise I shall die only a day before my sentence to a hundred years and one day expires, can you hear me, can you hear me…”, with my voice becoming even feebler, subdued by the deafening noise of tourists (they have suddenly popped up on this absolutely unknown Chinese continent of Venetian lagoons and they send out colourful postcards all over the world to their abhorred and detested relatives they completely fail to understand despite sharing the same language), subsiding beyond the spread sails of my transoceanic galley, getting quieter and quieter… And then I shall drown into the languages of all the worlds, in all the languages not any more capable of understanding their own kind - thus is the noise at St. Marco’s Square deafening; nobody can hear each other any more. We have walked along every street and alley and we have crossed each and every bridge; we keep circling round, catching our own tails – here, we have been here just recently, but all the streets take you to St. Marco’s Square; everything is so tiresome and so tedious. And Venice is, or so they say, sinking because of the curse of Veli Jože[1] declining on the stolen logs from the mountain of Velebit[2], the trees Veli Jože had fought so fiercely for, not letting them take away his native woods. Yet they tenaciously and relentlessly kept on cutting and chopping and slaughtering his trees, until there was a single, lonely tree left on Velebit, and Jože was buried below that tree, but he had sworn to avenge it, to retaliate for its loneliness. But he said he would wait until those Venetians have built a magnificent, golden-domed town on his logs, and only then would he sever them a bit by bit, one after another, eat them away with salt water and make the ropes tear apart; then each house should move in its own direction and remain lonely on its single log. This is what Jože had sworn to, and now he is taking his revenge on an unknown Chinese continent of Venetian lagoons, which had emerged on tree logs; thus he is taking his revenge, with salt water, eating away logs from Velebit, and he is hollering with joy at the foot of that single left tree on the slopes of Velebit. “Vengeance is mine and I shall take it”, this is what he must have been thinking, not in the least resembling Anna Karenina; but it does not really matter for I am not Anna either. The giants are not taking revenge for me, I myself keep discovering unknown Chinese continents for you and I tell you midnight stories to stop you from falling asleep, to keep you awake in our fanciful paradise. For when we meet, you will find me quite ordinary and tedious, you will not even be able to recognize me out of a pure boredom; you will find books far more interesting than myself. But I shall steal Dali’s Andalusian Knight anyway, the one who left nothing but angular and crooked bones behind of the drawing, with his beloved one completely gone. He is standing all alone in those angular drawings made with mere three movements of artist’s hand, and he does not care at all for being so alone; he is tilting at windmills, which are actually not there either, and, quite simply, there is not anything there at all.  I shall most certainly steal at least one sculpture of the clocks Salvador keeps frantically and compulsively creating, so incredibly elongated that hours run down the face of the clock, with its hands gliding through the stretched and not even remotely appealing Face of the Time. And finally, there is but only a single drop left from the melting clocks – this is how we have thawed in the sweltering heat of scorching Spanish middays, it is really horrid what weather is like in Spanish obsessions, caused by sudden outbursts of rays of sun; it is like feeling one’s own inevitable mortality, it is as though all the clocks in the world have come to an abrupt stop, have irreversibly been petrified, and there is only one single drop of time running down, immortalised in its trickle, in its drizzle, in the oozing of gelatinous masses of our deranged times. This is what Salvador Dali looks like at the exhibition in Venice, in cell-like, dungeony rooms of a tiny gallery in a dreary street; this is what time looks like when you seek for sunken Venetian lagoons saturated with dank luxury of abundant jewelleries. I cannot help wondering what it will be like when, one day, Venice suddenly caves in, when it finally and irreversibly drowns, when it disappears and when the curse by Veli Jože fulfils, “Let it be erased from the face of the earth, let there be no trace left, let it be damned and forgotten for ever and ever, amen…”. Thus muffled and subdued echo the sounds of the cursed bells in the depths of cobalt lagoons and gondolier kitsch – nobody ever sings nowadays, not even hums while walking, for the time of the flood is coming, the end of the world is getting closer. They say Venice will not be sinking slowly but simply drown within a brief moment, disappear, it will be devoured by briny waters, by biting, all-corrosive sea water Veli Jože had even made saltier adding abundantly all the saltiness from the whole world. They say Venice will vanish in a single moment and the sunken part will pull down the rest into the abyss; the bridges will break up like thin lines, like fragile tendons of a prancing horse, like pebbles rolling one after another, and then it will grow into is a chaotic avalanche of larger and bulkier stones falling from the high peaks, like the top of Velebit, from the tops of holy mountains, like the curse of Babylon, like the Curse of Babylon of scattered peoples and unintelligible languages. This is how the glorious empire of Venetian doges shall perish, those doges who had butchered our people until the Uskoks[3] and their bold accomplices rose. “Oh, no, no, honourable doges! Not a single gold coin more, not a single virgin shall you take away again …” they made up their minds. The wheels of vengeance grind slowly, but the vengeance is not beyond reach; they reach whole magnificent cities, how should it not reach a simple mortal like Vronsky and his rival, legitimate and before the brave, old world acknowledged husband? That happens to Vronsky, and that happens to whole towns that gathered their wealth looting other towns’ treasury. “Vengeance, vengeance”, the rhythm of a dythiramb resounds below Venetian bridges, below Venetian logs and ropes. “Vengeance, vengeance”, echoes in muffled sounds of a bit tacky gondoliers hitting the water with their rows. “Justice, justice”, reverberates in heavy clouds, sending down salty rains… That is the unknown language of Venice, the unknown continent at the edge of well-known Chinese world; that is the exhibition in cell-like, dungeony rooms of salvaged Salvador Dali, speaking in a language only he can comprehend, the language of melting clocks and frozen in trickle of Drops of the Time. That is indeed the language of awaiting comprehensive only to you and me.

In the magnificent, long rooms with short passages, like short necks of halls running like a chain, but from another gallery, with an imposing gate and brooding ducal pages who keep guard in the morning to prevent the prisoners cast into the dungeon from the mutiny; there is another exhibition which brings back memories of the times I have recently described, those times from Kiev I told you about. You ask me how it all happened and I resume the story I started earlier, for I do not want to bore you, I do not want you to become annoyed and jaded with me, so I resume the exhibition story from sunken Venice in another time, in another place. It is where Daliesque petrified clocks take me, to the realm of eternity, and I am serious when I say that real, genuine eternity where you can squeeze everything, in a single moment, even into the Venetian tiny cells of its dungeons and sigh like the last time on that famous Bridge of Sighs, and then jump at that very moment, just to the movement of a clock-hand on Dali’s clock in the petrified drop, into Kiev winter, then on into clear Andalusia, purified with the morning freshness of rain, and then further to China at the time of its imperial collapse, and then… Who knows where, but visiting the grave of Veli Jože is a must, his grave right below that single tree left behind, its roots completely incorporated into the rocks and further down, breaking through to the greyish dirt and underground waters and cave springs. Thus grows that tree like branches on Daliesque fingernails making a man look like a mere trifle, a triviality, a vain pettiness, an utter nothing. And from that tree of nail-like growths, or the other way round, on that Daliesque clock of petrified Drop of the Time I enter into a magnificent gallery on that very square of St. Marco who went completely insane with all those unfamiliar and incomprehensible languages, hence he keeps communication with ducal pages only; he had sunken into his own times, sunken to the bases of tied logs and there is only a fast, sudden death ahead of him – here is where I enter and I find myself in a completely new world. The world is called the French and its name is Impressionism. It would be as if you were asking me “Excuse me, what’s your name now?”, and I reply as though I were lined up at a passing-through border station, reporting “My surname – French, my name – Impressionism”. Additionally I write it down on a huge, velvety red billboard, with golden letters embroidered on a finely woven textile, and I spread over the whole entrance into the Doge’s Palace now containing the gallery. Poor Doge, his glorious court has been completely mutilated with dotted, speckled pieces of work by impressionists and cubists. A kind of a mismatch. There, in one of the halls I meet a French impressionist, what he actually isn’t, the impressionist, I mean, and in his painting of white colours with greyish plane-like frames I recognize the same park, the same snow covered and heavily burdened park trees I carefully observed from my room window in Kiev. This is how I travel the world and look at it through the windows of impressionist paintings. The same park, the same crooked lines of bare branches of occasional trees, covered with the same thick, white snow. Again I am in Kiev, it is the winter of 1992 and I abide in the parks of Kiev below my windows, and I bend over from a dilapidated balcony on the fourth floor; and then I wander through Brest-Letovsky streets of Kiev as it used to be, along Dorogozhitska street, which means “a street where wheat is transported”, something like “Wheat-wagoning street” – the names have survived, and thus has a little of the spirit of the times past, times of driving wheat in wagons. Right beside that image, at incredibly tiny distance, there is another image, a painting by the Russian impressionist Goncharova – elongated and disproportionally large painting where an expressionless monarch is bristling up, assuming a horribly factitious and stiff pose, with her disturbingly long body and a black veil over her elongated face. Yet this stiffness and completely unnatural elongation resembles a little elongated faces of El Greco’s dignitaries – that is a real distorted elongation, a real lengthening, a genuine pretentiousness. She is completely in black darkness, but even that darkness seems to be vanishing before her outstretched neck with a head topping it. Everything in this unnatural and disproportionally elongated painting is aspiring upwards. The painting is shaped as a regular rectangle, with one side at least triple the length of the other, with the frame ghastly invisible, thus making the painting look as though hanging by itself, levitating in the air and floating in its regular rectangularity, bringing forward its elongated figure whose blackness, applied in innumerate brush strokes, is disappearing before its own elongation. Indeed, I find an arched landscape by a French painter much more pleasing, a painter that could not have lived in Wheat-wagoning Street in Kiev, yet he managed to depict faithfully the arches of three bound verticals of an archway through which the whole neat, square-shaped dwelling estate and white snow-covered trees in a barren park are visible. Kiev under snow, snow-covered Kiev that the French impressionist had never seen, which I am absolutely certain about. Dali’s clocks strike hours more regularly than all the other clocks and I believe only the Jews are capable of figuring out that paradox, they would know best and manage to establish the interval of regular and irregular strikes of ancient clocks. Those elongated Dali’s clocks are the Faces of the Time in reversed proportionality. Those clocks are never slow, but they do take the time back, and left and right, backwards and forwards, whatever they feel like doing, yet they never fail to be exact, to be precise in each and every slide of their movement along the clearly displayed Arabic clock digits. Thus the enchanted time passes by when Dali’s clocks crawl to Venice, to that unknown continent, and the time simply stops and the hands start crawling around as they like, left towards Spain, right towards Kiev Principality, into the Wheat-wagoning Street before Christ, at the time of Slavonic paganism. Then the hands move forward, into the great flood of Venetian world, and frantic St Marco’s Square resumes the conversing with the Doge, while pages keep their guard outside the gates into his white palace. Hands then slide backwards again and Dali is painting the skeleton of living Don Quixote without his beloved one but with an occasional windmill, and then all over again, once more and round and round, I am already feeling light headed, I am feeling I am about to lose my consciousness from the myriad of unknown and indiscernible languages innumerate tourists are speaking on my, just newly discovered Chinese-Venetian continent. And I am seeing Anna Karenina, alive and kicking, as she is wandering alone, just like a true feminist, with a camera in her hands, a tourist guide in Russian and a handbook on the short insight into Venetian history. The Legal and Illegal are trying to draw her attention but in vain. She will not see them, she will not pay them any attention, not even the slightest – she is engrossed in the reading of Dante’s Inferno in its original text, and in exploring the harmony of rhymes and disharmony of a free verse, and is about to write a scholarly essays. She is not paying any attention whatsoever to either of them and she does not care at all about the fact that this very moment whole and unique Venice may sink under; she is happy on her own and is dreaming of revenge, just like all the goliaths and giants in the entirety and diversity of the history of Russian and other literatures. Thus I meet Anna Karenina at St. Marco’s Square and I address her boldly, “Excuse me, Anna, how come you have come here, I have never hoped to see you here…”, and she shall reply, recognizing me and putting her arms around me as though we were old acquaintances just passing by, “How nice, you have come here as well, how are you, pleas do tell me how you have been doing…”, and then we shall together write on a colourful picture postcard of St. Marco’s Square and its pages and doges that have come to life (you can see them clearly, alive and kicking, with pink and satisfied faces and stiff postures). The card is for Matilde Urrutia -we somehow we feel sorry for her, the two cheeky, bold feminists, living quite happily and nicely without their Vronskys. So we write the postcard to the poor lonely Matilde Urrutia, and we point out how difficult it is to carve verses in white marble, particularly on its shreds, and how it is really not easy for Pablo Neruda, but Matilde is more important, far more important, which is why we are sending her this colourful postcard. Alas, everything is possible in Venice that brought Dali’s clocks all the way from Spain, only to its own ruin. When the time stops, anything is possible. I had a real nice talk with Anna Karenina, a die-hard Russian feminist-emigrant. For the time has come for Sophie to leave Leo Tolstoy, not only to be let her be abandoned by him, as conveniently displayed in Tolstoy museum in Moscow, by the entrance at the very beginning of the exhibition hall, situated in the visible place and covered with firm glass, the first proposing love letter from Tolstoy to Sophie. At the end of the hall, on an old concert piano, there is another letter, the Second Letter in which eminent Leo notifies his beloved Sophie the time of their separation has come, that he is leaving and would not be coming back, and he pleads her not to look for him for nobody will know where he has gone; any search would be futile and in vain, she should not even attempt looking for him for she shall never find him, and neither shall he look for her, everything is over and therefore there is no turning back. Now the fleeing emigrant-feminist Anna Karenina (you see, Tolstoy, even your own characters are abandoning you) and myself are certain the time has finally come for Sophie to stop mourning and despairing and cease looking for that male refugee who displaced himself from his own home, and that there has been enough of that Leo Tolstoy and his killings of the innocent characters. And generally, thus Anna and me keep contemplating sipping our tasty espresso in the contemporary resort of Venice, there have really been enough of tragisms, is it not so? And what is the time; let’s have a look at Dali’s most precise clock in the world; oh, it is already past 5, it is time to leave. Anna departs, gently swaying her hips; ravishing, yet detached, she heads for the library where, while reading 17 century Venetian prose, she will turn into a book herself, whereas I return from my newly discovered continent to stale Zagreb and I think of that single tree, growing so lonely you cannot even take a walk beneath, let alone sit and properly rest you aching feet (again, hard, leather straps of my uncomfortable shoes have cut into my skin). I think of the other shore of the Sava River[4], I think of what time it is and whether this is insomnia nagging me again; and whether I write along with Borges and whether he died of  longevity, completely innocent, yet with a terrible guilty feeling, a feeling matching only a Romanesque plot of middle-aged but already decrepit and weary writers. Dying of longevity - why, that is a kind of far-fetched, being wakeful like Borges, that is quite audacious. Thus I would like to slumber, to sleep through another night, to fall asleep when the last lantern of the Upper Town streets goes out, to rest and not to wake up until the first day of autumn. For I do not feel like dying of eternal insomnia, of old-aged sleeplessness, I am not the old man Borges who in his blindness recalls soft darkness of Rhonda and hollowed streets. “.. here, in Rhonda / in the soft darkness of blindness / hollow silence of streets / in the idleness of jasmine / and silenced gurgle of water preventing / memories of deserts”, thus writes blinding Borges with his scholarly-poetic pen in “Rhonda”, another chapter on timeless eternity and complete immortality. I am trying to lull myself to sleep with those verses and I refuse to lie awake until dawn, I just want to slumber peacefully on the pillow of drizzling rain reminding me of mornings and awakenings of broken-winded and asthmatic rain with bouts of cough and a back pain. For you see, under the auspices of eternity a man tends to grow old rather quickly, the body turns into a broken machine and the time simply stops, caught in a single consumptive Drop of the Time. One cannot quench one’s thirst with it, it can only bring infection, plague, sickness, the longevity does bring death, and it must be the most horrible disease that undoubtedly ends up in death with no cure whatsoever. Being long-lived, it is as resembling one single drop of melting and elongated Dali’s Clock of Eternity, Timekeeper of Longevity, Hand of Immortality. As I turn left and right from an imaginary axis, thus move the hands of Dali’s clock, glide up and down and I can discern, even from far away, a century or two have passed as expressed in Dali’s missing second-hands, and that another life of suicidal characters by Russian authors has run out (there is no realism, it is a pure palmistry of Stalinist fate!) when somebody has read all the way through the book and closed it at the end thus annihilating pale, resurrected figure of a hero who had just started to hope to live a little longer after his Creator, the Great Writer, has happily deceased. Oh, no, that would not happen, creators outlive their characters even from their graves, unless they manage to escape them just like Anna Karenina in St. Marco’s Square, under the auspices of Dali’s clock which relentlessly reshapes the Time and nothing can escape it under the newly revived creating pen, in the depths of the righteous clock mechanisms. Dali’s clocks are the only proper and just timekeepers for they do what they feel like doing and they serve justice in accordance with their own mechanisms, from dust they create Don Quixotic slanting bones of really ugly male legs and annihilate loved ones; branches and twigs grow from fingernails and everything is as it should be, and Anna Karenina shall turn into a book of all that reading when she feels like it, and she shall throw Leo into the dust before her feet. Righteous time of the last throbs of mighty Venetian ducal magistracy which attempted to become kin with those from Kiev. However it does not happen so lightly, the crime has already been committed and Veli Jože has come for his revenge. He cannot be ignored, and neither can be historical memories, nor the collective memories of stolen trees of once thickly wooded ravines of Velebit. That single tree left shall revenge for all those thick woods and it shall drown Venice with its resilience to salt water thus the Venetian doge shall never reach Kievan Grand Prince who, among the last ones, joined my Tatar-Mongolian friend Yuri I with whom he reads thick historical books; but he would not share ladies with him, he would rather sing yearning laments. Therefore the history will not take this direction as everybody knows why they were given what they have, and that is why I have given all the answers to your questions. Therefore the Venetian doge shall never meet his Kievan counterpart. I beg you, do not ask me any more questions for I shall leave you like Anna Karenina left Leo Tolstoy. For you have made me like this for a single summer, and I shall leave you in autumn. For you have created me flawed, for I do not want Vronsky in my short life. And asthmatic autumn rain and consumptive yawning of the time that has come to a standstill while I keep waiting for you really annoys me. I beg you do not ask me anything more.

Thus another summer has passed, the summer of Anno Domini 1995 – shall I put a full stop here or not? It does not really matter for if I put a comma I might experience more summers like this one, which would be really a bad thing, no, I do not want it to happen – Borges would regain his eyesight and suffer again from insomnia and it is so hard being long-lived twice, being sleepless twice, being exiled for a hundred years from Marques’ swampy hallucinogenic apparitions floating in sweltering heat of a boiling summer. It is already past midnight; Dali’s magic clocks have harmoniously ceased striking, at the very same moment of a magical midnight when the magic vanishes and Cinderella becomes herself again, and I have not finished my Master’s papers yet, I am late, inevitably late. And it is all because of Dali’s damned righteous clock; it sentenced me to this long hour of now hot, then rainy summer, it sentenced me to not dreaming journeys through my vivid dreams, it reminded me of ink dripping from the pens of all the Spinozas; again it gave me a dotted black and white coat of the winter of 1987. Yet, through the prism of Dali’s clocks the world becomes magical and fairytale where anything is conceivable, anything is possible, there is no destiny or ill-fate – dreaming of all these characters and then meticulously writing them down, writing letters to lonely Matilde Urrutia and getting together with giants of one-eyed Cyclops, what a dream, what a midnight’s summer dream. Again both of us are but supporting characters in a drama continuing up to our times, still called Romeo and Juliet and even to the present day their Hamletian cry of unfulfilled love ecstasy, of names – unknown, of fates – forgotten. You and me, the two of us shall meet this autumn, quite a commonplace, a completely banal encounter and it will go like this: “Hello, it’s me”, a silvery voice of withered full-bodiness shall echo over the telephone line.

“Oh, hello”, I shall answer, both readily and faking being caught off-guard, but definitely quite commonly as though nothing happened, as though I did not have a single weird dream, and even if I did, it would not be worth talking about, “how are you, I’ve been wondering if you will ring up.”

And you shall reply readily, as one would expect from you, my prosaic Romeo who actually is no Romeo at all, apart from the ban of such conversations per se, “Why, of course, I must give you your books back, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

I shall reply both hesitatingly and unhesitatingly, “Well, whenever it suits you, we could meet at my place…”

We shall really meet at my place, but by that time we shall have forgotten everything, all embankments along the Sava, and the wilderness of the southern shore, and we shall chat like old acquaintances, asking each other “…and in that year, where were you, what did you do, where did you go?”

My answers shall come out lightly and naturally, completely aware I cannot lie to you about anything, I cannot come up with a single, most innocent lie. “You know, I was in Kiev that winter. It was quite nice, we visited a real wooden dacha in the outskirts, and the winter was bitter”, but I shall not mention my Tatar-Kievan friends, I could not disclose their origin, expose their noble nobility, and I shall tell you nothing about the last glorious Tatar raid into tame, grain-bearing plains, and shall not be able to tell you about reading historical books on the golden age of their principality where my foreign friends, Yuri I and Yuri II, appear; I shall only mention “You know, my friends are coming over, some time this summer. Would you like to meet them?”, and then I shall apologize for even mentioning his socializing with friends of mine for I am well aware of the fact our acquaintance is something we must keep a secret, like we did eight years ago, outside the entrance into the inferno of a meeting point of  intriguers with “…bad times for us, paradise birds…”, so I shall add “I know, you’d be bored, they’re younger than you, and you’d not enjoy what they have to say – you see, they’re all historians, not economists”. This is how I am going to forestall your well-known and anticipated answer “No, I couldn’t possibly, thank you for inviting me, but I’m rather busy”; then we shall keep talking about this and that, without mentioning the names of our rain children, those who would never be born, and we shall remain futile lovers of a withered summer. Then, I am likely to ask you, not really expecting a proper answer, “Will you be coming tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,…”, and you are most likely to answer “Maybe, and maybe, and maybe,…”. I therefore shall not tell you about Matilde Urrutia and marble verses of Pablo Neruda, and I shall make no mentioning of Tibet, maybe only of Moscow State Library, and even that only briefly, barely anything for it does not really matter, you would not be interested anyway. I expect you to say then “Do you still have that drink, I can’t remember what it was”, and that was my father’s Chivas, put aside for special occasions only; I shall pour you a glass and shall not mention ambrosia, I shall make no reference to Zeus nor furious and vengeful Helen with whom we spend this summer; I shall not mention anything. And to your question “How is your work, have you finished everything?” I shall say “I've been working but I haven’t finished quite everything” but I shall not talk how I was busy the whole summer building our rainy town to move in together this autumn, nor shall I talk about autumn chestnuts and I shall most definitely not give you any by the rain ponds in our way, nor shall you ask for any roasted chestnuts from the Upper Town and everything shall fall into oblivion. We shall forget each other, I am certain of it, I can feel it in my bones; the clocks are punctual so you will not be late for your midnight tram for it is a long way to walk all the way and over the bridge into the new part of town. Thus you will not be my Rider on the Wind; you will remain only but a passionate walker who will never soar up into the skies, up to the tops of holy mountains, towards rapturous verses that can make a man go blind and simply die; yes, die, like a worm-holed rose bush, like sunflowers who stand no chance in swampy grounds of flooding rains. Everything will remain the same and you will be bored and annoyed within barely two hours and then walk away, just as you did eight years ago. We shall part and forget. It does not really matter that the clock in my kitchen has stopped and keeps showing the very midnight of the last day of Marquez’s solitude of a hundred years and one day, and it does not really matter if faded figurines of old people never meet, and now they each stand in their proper place, at midnight of the last day of summer, at midnight of the first day of autumn. “It does not matter, it does not matter”, Edgar’s black raven is cawing now, completely oblivious of why it is doing so, it must be for you and me, but not even that really matters. I shall not tell you about my journey to Venice, you are not particularly impressed by Dali, and it is all because his elongated clocks and that single, that only wholesome drop hanging from the elongated clocks in whose most righteous mechanisms anything is possible. Both summer and autumn and winter are possible, both dotted coat and the brown one in whose deep pocket a round chestnut, not given to anyone, is bulging out. I cannot turn into a miraculous chestnut-oak tree for it is already midnight and the magic is disappearing, it is already the last day of summer and the miracle has failed to happen; it is already the first day of autumn and miracles do not happen any more. Yet I believe in miracles, I believe my Rider in the Wind, and Buddha too, will resurrect, and one day I shall stealthily slip into your pocket a stolen verse by an author I do not know, but I do know he is the one lighting Chinese lanterns and playing tricks on memories. I shall play a trick on you too, I am certain I shall at least slip, into the pocket of your raincoat (you always used to wear same dark blue coats for all occasions; they always looked the same, even when they were brand new), that stolen verse for Chinese lanterns memories of this summer of droughty swelter and unkept promises; I am definitely going to do that, in the memory of Chinese sages, for the mountains are really no longer cobalt, nor can they be seen in rainy mists, they have turned completely grey of old-age and waiting, which you will never find out about for I shall not tell you, for I shall keep it a secret form you. It does not really matter; it is all to be blamed on Dali’s righteous clockworks, while we are going to say our goodbyes under plain, commonplace lamps, those neon lights on smooth concrete, not giving away under wounded feet in uncomfortable leather strapped shoes and long walks throughout endless Moscow streets. And there shall be no Chinese lanterns and no memory shall be played a trick on.

There will be only me and my scorched summer left, summer that faded away too soon, and I shall remember only long expectation of autumn, a simple autumn as they tend to be in Zagreb when students eagerly rush back at their long desired desks, and you draw up economic analyses in which I do not fit (for orange oranges of withered summer cannot fit into regular forms of geometrical shapes). And high-rises will turn again into square bodies of concrete, steel and glass; there will be no social justice, as there has never really been any, but all that does not matter anymore. There, my summer and I remain alone, with you gone far away, riding on the last night tram whose rails I know very well, whose stations I got to know in details, and my World Cartography of soaked wings has come to a complete failure. For it is valid only in strikes of Dali’s, not mundane clocks, it is fathomable only when I engross in the silence and seclude myself from the rest of the world. Thus remain my silence and me, without you, failing to welcome your return. On the last day of summer, the first day of autumn, in a regular sequence of season changes, in regular strikes of clocks on the walls, there where time waits for nobody and will not stop for a single eternity, let alone for immortality. Here, the midnight has struck, the magic is breaking and Anna Karenina is turning into another murdered character in the work by a long deceased author. Everything is in its proper place, and after the whole eight years my books will fill their empty places again, whereas I shall become a humble reader of Marquez and Borges and Russian authors of Realism once again. It does not matter, this summer is over, it is already far behind; we have remained the same, unintelligible and forgotten after eight years and one day of the ninth year. However, I am going to give you a stolen verse, the one about the evening whose name is Judas. For that evening is going to betray us, I can foresee it, we will not be able to discern this summer, the summer of 1995, with a full stop. The summer with a comma, the summer with a row of exclamation marks and question marks. “The evening is called Judas / approaching with the lanterns from a Chinese picture book / and playing tricks on memories”. It is going to play a trick on us with a perishable magic and betray us in the evening bringing the truth and the death of a summer. Thus I am writing the last summer line to prevent you from forgetting the betraying verse, to make you recognize me even after ten years of solitude, to turn you into my confessor, my soul-keeper, my judge. “I shall be your confessor”, this is what you have told me and therefore I have confessed about my summer, and I shall tell you about the autumn in autumn when you give me back my books, when everything goes back to normal, when you have forgotten about me.

 

GIRL FROM EMBANKMENT                   

 

There was something scary about her, about a Girl from an Embankment. Or rather, she was scary to watch and listen to at the same time would describe it more accurately. Exactly this combination of visual and audio stimulus, her looks and flood of words she ruthlessly poured over me, incessantly and unremittingly, with no commas and full-stops, ignoring my direct questions, as well as my ever declining and failing comments I fruitlessly used to overcome a gap that continuously, just like her torrent of words barely resembling human speech, separated and divided us, disintegrated and tore us apart into opaque pieces of what initially, in the sense of self-evident axiom of our encounter, was easy to set up, define, outline a clear-cut boundaries of a physical identity, measurable in distinct masses of two bodies with their own masses, sizes, volumes and other criteria we commonly use to establish the fact two separate and self-sufficient human entities have met. Yet, it did not happen like that. No, not in any respect, not in any sense – it simply did not happen like that. It was more like some kind of melting or pouring over from two empty vessels, one being me and quite obviously completely hollow, while the other being, at least seemingly, a gully eroded by a torrent of speech and which resembled an overfilled barrel, pouring over in ever more fierce and endless myriads of words. The more my hollowness deepened, the more her fulfilment kept growing and pouring over as though it had no bottom, as though it was punctured at the other end where the torrent constantly carried along silt, and I never failed to run aground and got stuck in it. But let us start from the beginning, as needs to be done in this encounter beyond any axiom and with few known definitions that should be re-evaluated, re-defined, re-postulated, set up new geometrical patterns which the two of us, being thus hollowed and vain, would be able to fit into. Let us take one thing at a time.

It was a July, not too gloomy as often happens in summers in cities, but rather a clear early afternoon this year. My stroll down an embankment, along the Sava, was coming to an end, and I was near those red-painted buildings resembling a housing estate, but too randomly built and a kind of scattered around to be called an estate, when I met Embankment Girl. Not that she had no real and proper name – her name was Marija, if her word can be trusted, but I think the name I had given her, Embankment Girl, is far more suitable. There is a least one thing which can be called mine in that existence, or rather, there is at least something, as opposed to her, I can reassert myself and verify my own existence. Nothing else was capable of doing it, there was no other way or mode. At that very point of my nearly quotidian route in nice weather, there appeared Embankment Girl. I would not have even noticed her for she seemed to have merged, in a curious way, with the environment, as though she had emerged from it, as though she leaped out of so a familiar picture that you had stopped paying any attention to its details a long time ago. However, her sudden appearance might be interpreted, perhaps by my own accustomation to each and every detail of my steps, taking me from the first, over the second and all the way to the third bridge – I do not know their names and I cannot make myself memorise them, I have always used only ordinal numbers or some other improvised description to refer to them – well, at that very place She suddenly emerged. Barely noticeable and of slight stature, regardless a certain diminution of the environment resulting from difficulties in perception from the viewpoint of special orientation of somebody paying no attention to the space-time reality, but as a pure habit she only circumvents her direction and that is all. She was young, very young, not very tall and unbelievably gaunt. When I say she was young, that is actually, just like everything else about our encounter, merely an approximation, a relative term normally used to describe a person of hardly nineteen years of age. Her face did not, however, reveal her age. I do not mean it could be in any way described as not young, yet it was not. Calling it indefinable might be the most appropriate description for the youth of her face. She was undoubtedly young, yet at the same time her face was comparable with mature female faces whose features are almost embalmed, stiff, finalised, shaped by their character and experience, with a certain distance they keep towards their surroundings and their own expressions. The face was not revealing of anything tangible, anything definable and, for that matter, anything extraordinary. A face just like any other, resembling only to itself. Her stature was easier to determine; she was rather short, as I have already mentioned earlier, and distinctly gaunt. She walked in well-paced steps although she was a little scooped as though she was burdened, or that could have simply been due to her poor bearing while sitting at her school bench. It must have been some kind of deviation; however I could not figure it out at the time.

Having emerged from a background of scarce and greyish greenery and housing buildings at the back of the picture, she walked towards me and then she spoke to me, curtly and casually as I would have expect of her, for a pressing matter of, an utterly trivial thing, needing a - cigarette. So she asked me for a cigarette. As far as I was concerned, this would have sufficed for the encounter, however it had not. Well, it all started with a cigarette and continued in concatenation of events I am about to reconstruct, fully aware that neither my memory nor my writing skills will suffice to depict the comprehensive story and to render that unusual occurrence and unprecedented consequences it imprinted into my own being I had thought to have been completely defined. On a geometrical surface, from about a distance of one metre – as considered proper and common for passers-by, She took a cigarette I had readily handed over from an open box and then she continued something most certainly called ‘an uninterrupted monologue’ in theatrical terms.

“Thanks”, was all I expected, however, Hers were all other words that came out, “you know, they won’t let me smoke at home, it a real bugger, so I have to go out and beg cigarettes from people in the street, I’m on my way to a friend’s place, this is a shorter way, I live in Folnegovic estate, while she is in Knezija, anyway, this is a nice walk, I really can’t say, while I was crossing that junction over there everyone was pressing on their horns, probably because of my looks, I really can’t say, and when I reached the embankment, a boy, well, just a little kid, he almost knocked me over, he probably wanted to act as a cool fellow, whatever, this is really a nuisance when one is not allowed to smoke at home…”

I am really trying hard to say something, still self-confident, and bold, and resolute, I am trying to show my compassion for each of her statements, but soon I get to realize it is utterly absurd, though I will not give up easily, no, that is certainly not the case – She is just a cheeky young creature who got into my way asking for a cigarette, and at least in that respect, being a notorious middle-aged smoker, I feel supreme. Yet I am not, as I am soon to discover, for I cannot interrupt a single syllable, let alone a whole word. The torrent is gushing over relentlessly. 

“I’m pregnant – I’m in the third month – that’s why they won’t let me have a smoke, you know, nobody can see it yet, but my mum also had a small belly all the way through her pregnancy, it must be running in the family, but now I think, and that’s what every tells me, it’s better to go for a check-up at hospital where you want to deliver, it’s safer this way, they follow you from the very beginning, I had some kind of a lump, nothing serious but I was really scared, Nenad told me not to worry as such things are simple to deal with these days, I have left him a message to let him know I have gone to a friend’s, I’ve left it on the fridge, I usually leave him messages there, I guess by now he is cross for I haven’t come back, everybody keeps telling me I should take good care of myself now being pregnant, and my friend I’m about to see had a baby three months ago, so I’m off to hear some useful advice, my mum would be glad to give me some, but I’d rather she didn’t, my mum was completely opposed to our relationship, I was still a minor at the time, Nenad used to go and see her just to tell her not to worry, when we first met I was completely silly, hardly paying any attention to him, I would only go out with my girlfriends, while he thought that should’ve been a serious and committed relationship and we should be together every day, I was still a minor when I ran away from home and started living with him, my mum went bananas, Nenad would go over to her trying to reassure her by saying “Madam, just calm down, we are serious about the whole thing” and things like that, but it was a while before she really did and came to terms with the situation, now we’ve been living for over three years and now I’m pregnant, I think after I’ve had the baby and get slim again, I‘ll be able to dance again, he is a director, that’s how we met, and I was so terribly in love with him and I just stared and stared at him, I couldn’t take my eyes off him, and see, our flat is really a mess, this is his grandma’s flat actually, we haven’t done any decorating, we’re planning to sell it and get something better, and at night, I sometimes scream at night by his side, I wake him up just before dawn and I just scream, I feel an urge to talk all the time, and he is tired and doesn’t feel like talking and then I start screaming, and I graduated from high school at the same with all those jerks and morons, I have a lot of friends, but true friends are rare, a boy from my class already got engaged, I guess he is in love and intends to marry the girl, we all tend to marry young nowadays, but Nenad and me wouldn’t, this is only a signature on a white piece of paper, it has no real meaning, as if it didn’t even exist, I don’t care about it, we’ve been living together for almost three years anyway, but the most important thing for me is to be able to dance again after the delivery and all the fuss about it, that is my choice, that is what I like doing, that is where I found my place, not like the bunch of jerks whose main goal is to leave for work in the morning, come back in the afternoon, and then watch TV till late in the evening, they are not even aware there is much more to life than that, so much more, all Sagittariuses  agree about it, I’m a Sagittarius and I really know and like talking to everybody, doesn’t matter if they may be children or adults, I like talking to everybody, such is my temperament, you see, I wrote my graduation papers about types of temperament and drug addiction, a psychologist was in the graduation board and when he asked me what I thought about drug addiction, I told him I found a single comprehensive sentence in the whole book I had read and that was all to it, he only laughed and said he agreed with me and I got a very good mark in my graduation exam, in June, it was really tiresome, I was all stressed up, and now with all my friends, I’m left with only a few, we all parted and went off into different directions, I mean, one has really only a few friends, anyway, what do I need an intelligent friend for, after a while it all gets painfully boring and those intelligent friends, you can talk about anything with them, they get to know you so well so there is nothing more to say, they know everything before it is even spoken, what is then there to talk about, there is no point in going out with clever people, you get bored with them as they understand everything themselves, though I really like talking to all people, regardless their age, I’ve been trying to talk to Nenad, but he is tired when he comes home from work and he sometimes yells at me to stop, he’s probably bored with topics a choose, I don’t know, I just sometimes screech till I drop before dawn and then Nenad is furious for not having enough sleep, but I think I’ll be able to go back to dancing right after the delivery, I feel so awkward like this, I’m used to dancing, and now I’m bulky and lumpish, and yourself, you could fix your body in three months, your age does show but you’re young in spirit, that’s important, very important, and a body can be brought into a shape rather quickly, I’d be glad to recommend you good aerobics classes, you’d look younger and much prettier, it’s no problem at all…”

I am sorry that even now, while writing down these lines, I interrupt her monologue in such an awkward and improper way, just like all of my questions to that moment were completely improper. I only need to say that geometrical regularity of the speech was turning into a stream of dots, then it got criss-crossed, then slanting until it reached the peak of its slantiness, benefiting her hollowness at the opposite side of my own, then my hollowness turning into a complete and utter transparency opposing her superior weaponry which made any resistance futile. She was melting and disappearing into the surroundings changing with our every step, pouring into unruffled waves along the Sava embankment swaying with the river, rising into guarding gravel hills, and then melting with the shore in indiscernible line I could describe as neither straight nor winding, she was simply gushing out, reminding of an emptied bowl.  She was disappearing in my troubled perception that was swelling and expanding towards my hearing while drooping for all other senses. She was gradually perishing for my vision while melting with familiar shapes I would normally be able to find in complete darkness, and then started turning into a distant voice flickering in most subtle hues until it became a single huge wave. She was disappearing, I was completely certain about that, turning into a barely discernable, blurred shadow in the mist of my own clouded senses that had gone completely off balance and was now slanting to a side as though I had been suddenly deprived of the sense of balance and instead it had been replaced by an utter chaotic misbalance of non-geometry, asymmetry, abrupt and completely unexpected hormonal disbalance taking over the whole space of the consciousness. Everything began losing their initial shapes and frames, getting foggy, blurred, slanting, imbalanced, as though saying “If somebody told me he or she were about to commit suicide, I’d talk to them and ask them to explain why they want to do it, such a question would be quite enough to change their mind, that is really no proper solution to any problems, there was no proper solution when my mum divorced my dad either, my dad always preferred my younger sister to me, she was allowed to do literally whatever she wanted, she was allowed to stay out late, meet anybody she wanted, while I had to be brilliant at school and everything, though this is really insignificant, this is a nice neighbourhood, I’d never guess the good way to the main road, I guess it is just straight, there’s a tram stop there, this is certainly a nice neighbourhood, people live here peacefully and healthy, Nenad and I will most certainly have to move, that flat of ours is a real mess, but sometimes I get real scared, I’m overwhelmed by tremendous fear and then I scream at night, everything should be over after I’ve had a baby, and then I’ll be able to dance, we’ve been on tours in Slovenia, that is a dance as a background for music, yes, just like I say, our dance is a background, the music is just instrumental, and just before going out to the stage make-up artists put on such heavy make-up, in thick layers that we look like wearing masks, you’d only need some eye-contour corrector to hide your eye-rings, nothing else, it’s all just a matter of habit, you get to learn than after a while, but the performances are absolutely awful as we start sweating underneath all that unbearable masks, usual make-up is light, no, you simply can’t look bad if your make-up is properly chosen, you only need a little skill to apply it properly and that’s the whole truth, I myself have got used to it, so it is just straight to the tram stop, and Knezija is just across that road, it is not far, well, it’s been a real pleasure meeting you, I must be off now…”

I honestly cannot say if my Embankment Girl added “Good-bye” at the end of her utterance, but I am certain she asked about the time while leaving and, before I managed to answer that question, she knew the time herself although she was not wearing a watch. That was an intuitively discovered symmetrical, yet at the same time completely asymmetrical stronghold, just like everything about her was anti- and non- and relative, a base you could hold on to and climb up like onto Noah Arc, like a life raft in an great worldwide flood. It was exactly 3.35 p.m. when we parted.

With my senses completely clouded and my consciousness deviated, I kept walking as though in a dream. Not thinking about anything, I moved hardly being aware of it, with my limbs moving almost automatically, like following an order they had been long time ago accustomed to, in a way it usually happens after regaining one’s disturbed balance. However, I cannot say I was upset. Turbulences and waves caused a while ago were still raging inside me, resembling an avalanche burying everything that gets into its way and leaving no trace behind, and everything caused by a single drop which in our, to call it properly, monologue, happened to be nothing more than a cigarette. I cannot say I gave much thought to what she had been telling me, either. After all, she did speak to me. She was talking to me, looking for signs of my approval or disapproval, seeking my silent communicational support, though she did not really need one, her story unravelled without any outer assistance and no intervention was required. I did not put any conscious effort into restoring courses of her thoughts and storytelling, I did not care about reconstructing the content of her utterances, I had no intention of bringing the wholeness of her story into any kind of sensible and clear outline, the story I have just told you, completely true to her own words, regardless to time difference expressed in tilted dimensions of blurred shapes of time and place. Indeed, I must confess I did not think about anything, least about her who had suddenly appeared out of the blue and then disappeared, equally suddenly into nothingness. I find this very important to mention, for at exactly 5 p.m. I realized:

I have been tricked!

This unexpected thought was not hard to believe; it sufficed, just as I had immediately done, to check a certain home phone of a certain persona. The Telephone Inquiry clerk gave me precise information – a row of six digits, with a pause between the first and last three digits. A woman’s voice answered the phone, just as I had expected. Well, that particular persona has a kind of relationship I had not even dreamt of during our own acquaintance. Really, not even remotely, there had not been even a slightest hint; therefore the deception seemed even more unbelievable, more unexpected and sudden, resembling a basis of a shock that turns cognition into the state of complete enlightment or a Japanese satori. At exactly 6.24 p.m. I realized:

I have been enlightened

By unexpected intuitive insight

Into the very essence of reality!

 

Three months later

I cannot really say why the utter truth or actual reality of things is asymmetrical and sloping, while geometrical laws of proportions between fathomable and unfathomable of (un- or anti-)comprehender cannot be fully, geometrically applied to the laws of linear communicational streaming of the aspiring towards reduction phenomenon of the perceived in order to achieve satoric liberation and axiomatic approximation achieved at the level of liberation. I think the problem seems thoroughly complex but, as it happens with sudden enlightenments, completely simple at the same time: you only need to mark the shapes of the figure in the background, melting with the figure itself, inasmuch the figure disappears in its reverse vanishing, and everything will get clear. Or, you need to meet the Embankment Girl.

ETERNAL LOVE

15 December

Dear Ksenija,

In the swirl of dullness of quotidian life I whirl around, even though I may seem to be as solid as a rock. But I want you to know that I am only a fragile human being only thriving to win my daily bread, toiling day in, day out, fighting heartless millstones that grind everything that comes their way. Yes, unfortunately this is the cruel reality, and now I, the same myself who has already disclosed my soul to you innumerate times and spread it before you, I am doing it again for, Ksenija, you are probably the only woman to whom I have done this before, with an utter certainty you would understand me. Your intelligence puts you far above any other being I have met; I cannot measure your spirit by any standards for spiritual qualities confined to the robe of the wretched mass we call a human body and which people are inclined to yield to so readily and thoughtlessly - or rather, they dive headlong and rush hastily for pleasures - while you emanate those values through clear, undisturbed joy and bliss. Therefore my longing for you is almost painful, for after a while people usually come to realize they are so much less fulfilled and so more miserable than when they were alone. With you, I come only upon priceless jewels I feed my soul on, as though I were a poor, thirsty creature in a desert having found a well.

Dear Ksenija, you are my greatest spiritual wealth that I have ever encountered. Why encountered? Because spirituality cannot be measured or compared to anything tangible like everything else – therefore I cannot say ‘I had’ or ‘I have’, for sometimes you are as unfathomable to me as the stars flickering up in the sky. They flicker in all their untouchable glitter and soak us with longing for the eternal, and with the first hints of the new dawn they fade away until they have completely disappeared from the horizon. Thus your spirit remains intangible and unfathomable for me, and I can only admire and enjoy it over those brief moments we share together.

Please, do understand even when I do not get in touch with you and call you, for some reason or the other; I do not do it for I am angry with you. As I have already told you, I cannot get angry with the dearest being I have met in my whole life. Just remember, being angry with another soul is despicable; it is a bog of miserable and empty idling, barely deserving to be called a life. And the two of us have touched so many higher and more valuable things that have brought us far above the gloominess of whirlpool of everyday life. And we have always walked on the sunny side of the road looking for the rainbow after the rain.

Forever yours,

R.

 


26 December

Dear Ksenija,

I do not know what is happening with me and I would like to tell you everything that has been on my mind lately, for I hope your warm and friendly heart will be able to penetrate into the deepest corners of my soul and tell me what is whirling and boiling in there and will not let me be. Yesterday while celebrating the holiest of all days, while having such a beautiful, yet solemn and humble celebration we were feeling all our hearts, for a brief moment I was overwhelmed with a sudden yearn for God while I was in your presence. Christmas is the day when our Lord was born, the divine one we turn to for better and for worse, and you see, you are the one I share everything with – both my darkest fears and my most illustrious moments, bliss chimes through my veins and makes me cry out aloud beneath the sky, in exaltation for I have seen the shimmer in your emerald-green eyes. Please, trust me, I am overwhelmed with such an ecstasy when I am with you, when I start leaning towards your face looking for soft lips palled with morning dew. For the dew seems to have soaked them with eternal freshness; and they seem to be pouting, filled with the very nectar only God can give us. You see, it was yesterday with you by my side that I felt God so profoundly, so closely that for a brief moment we seemed to have been united in mercy of the Almighty; and his voice seemed to be talking to us in those short moments of silence when we stopped talking. Your whole being is so pure and untarnished by this deep and dark mire, this endless bog we are confined to and toil lamely through while existing in our short and petty lives that I felt, for only a brief moment, yet it seemed to have lasted for ages, God’s presence and his mercy.

Dear Ksenija, your whole essence has been woven from fragile threads, so fine I sometimes fear a reckless word from my mouth might disturb the harmony of the spirit, soul and body only God was able to create to his own image. For love I cherish for you is comparable only to a love pure souls cherish for our Creator. This Christmas we spend together was a real festival for my tortured heart. How you radiated with tenderness while setting the festive table despite the dinner being so simple; how your whole being was singing out loud in ecstasy when you whispered the gentlest words soothing my spirit and placating my restless heart, torn by storms of life; how soft you were when you confided the secrets of your soul and then gave me your body. Believe me, at that very moment God was so close, as though speaking in your voice and giving me a gift of my own body in your arms. Your words, your touches are the only food I can feed my heart to, the only nectar I can quench the thirst of my body with.

And my whole being is coming to life again, like a crimson dawn when I think there will not be long before I meet you again in your humble abode in the suburbia, and once again God will smile at the cry of my heart for loving you. This is what is in my heart. Soon storms of my life will drag me away from you, but only for a while, only for a moment, and then I will be by your side again.

Yours only,

R.

 


28 December


Dear Ksenija,

I have had a hell of a day today. What can I say, a day just like any other in this grey and sombre, this relentless town. Investigative judge really has to be prepared to expect anything, with his senses sharp, tense like strings, and always alert and attentive in his spirit. A judge’s life is by no means easy, but I do not even notice its hardships any more, I got used to them, just like a donkey gets used to being beaten. Homicides, robberies, assaults, suicides, just to mention a few, with nothing diminishing until a complete cease but just happening all over again. This is a vicious circle with nothing to break it, you just keep circling round and round until becoming numb, while your spirit floats loosely above the swamp of a busy city life. And in the whirl of pain and misery and pathetic human destinies, just thinking of you builds up my quiet shelter and haven; this is a thought which keeps my heart warm and my spirit strong and high.

Today I have met another miserable existence, just like thousands of others our town is abundant with. They pass by me, then I meet them again in the final act of a tragedy, or a comedy called life, and I see them off to their last journey, making them eternal for at least a while having put them into a file or a report I prepare for hearings – and those go on forever, they keep loitering around courtrooms for the whole eternity, and they spread all over the place and stretch like sticky chewing gums schoolchildren tend to glue to their school benches and then forget all about them. The same goes for the files containing destinies that have been given a final seal by buzzing and echoing sounds of funeral bells, or that creepy clicking sound of cell prisons being locked up, the sound following the irreversible and final loss of freedom, self-respect and human dignity. Not that there is much of any of these left in this town, I am a witness to it and I know the best, for every day those same images, same scenes, same tragedies keep emerging in the wasteland of streets in this god-forsaken town. And therefore I will not be coming over to your place today for my spirit has drooped and my nerves have become feeble, I am completely overwrought and exhausted with endless battles for justice that is almost non-existent or at least so fragile and miserable that felons come out of prisons with their sentences reduced by half for good behaviour; prostitutes keep perfecting their trade until their bodies have been eaten by maggots of venereal diseases; thieves are being sentenced to mildest possible sentences; mobsters shoot off innocent passers-by in the streets; in trials clear and obvious evidences are being refuted. This is how this town works, my dear Ksenija, and there is nothing to be done about it; nothing changes and nothing ever will. Forgive me please for not coming today, but my spirits are low and my nerves have gone weak. Believe me, to me this is the worst punishment possible as I can barely imagine a single day, even a single hour without you. If I did not have you, I would never survive this nightmare. And this has been a really difficult day for me.

The morning began with a call about an unidentified woman who had thrown herself from the fifth floor of the building at the corner of Ilica and Frankopanska Streets – do you remember, the other night we were walking there and I was showing you the window of the shop selling cameras? We were talking about artistic photography and you asked me to take a few photos. Well, the woman jumped off the fifth floor in the yard of that very building. My duty of an investigative judge is to look into the case and bring some light to it for it is necessary to establish beyond any doubt whether this was a case of a suicide or homicide. You can never tell that for sure at the first glance, for all circumstances must be taken into consideration. Yet, I am really good at this and nobody can stage one for the other to me. So early this morning I was already in Ilica, which is normally busy and bustling with people cramming at tram stops and hurrying and scurrying around. In the yard there was a body of a middle-aged woman with a fractured scull and broken bones. The police had already covered her with a plastic sheet as not to draw too much attention from the passers-by. Of course I examined the disfigured body thoroughly and then went upstairs to the fifth floor, to the left of the poor woman. The flat was a complete mess, with all kinds of things lying all over the place - you can call it a chaos of a desperate battle the woman was obviously fighting in her crawling hours before making her final decision. And a letter, a suicidal note from which I learned she made up her mind to go for that mindless act out of her love misery, though she was a little advanced in age, she was fifty-five. So I talked to the neighbours, I talked to the relatives, of course, and I found out she had been recently divorced from her second husband. The husband left her for a younger woman, and in the state of utter desperation she committed a suicide throwing herself off the fifth floor. That is life, my darling Ksenija, that is life and its cruel battling, sometimes ending like this. And who am I in that whirl of thoughts and feelings I have witnessed in the final, tragical act? Only but a silent witness who later carefully wrote down all required notes, created a report, and thus brought the case to its end. This is how things work.

And therefore believe me, though I got used to the whole ruthless living chaos, I am not coming over tonight although all of my thoughts rush to you, and I would give anything to see if only for a moment, to sit by your side and put my head into your lap and stay there for good, for ever, right there beside you. But by not coming I bring the punishment only to myself. I need some peace and quiet, and I want to withdraw into myself, for when I am with you I become somebody else, I transform into other kind of existence and everything seems to vanish. And I need to rediscover myself even though this quest is immensely painful, take my word for it.

You are forever in my heart.

Forever yours,

R.

 


1 January


My dearest Ksenija,

We had such a beautiful New Year’s celebration at your cute little place at the outskirts. And how lovely it was snowing, everything was so white and floating and shimmering as if in a dream, and though all the cold of the world surrounding us freezes the blood and the veins and the bones, our hearts are warm and passionate, and all that severe ice and frost and coldness cannot harm them in the slightest. They cannot even touch them, not even closely, for my heart is so filled with love, passion and elation - for you are by my side and for I know you will always stay by me, keep me warm in these bitter cold nights and think of me in a humble corner of this cruel world where, alas, there is a place for me I can always return to and find you, pure and devoted, faithful and unwavering, and completely and only mine. There it is, this is how I felt last night, and memories of the New Year’s Eve still keep me warm while toiling thorough the wastelands of my common life.

And then my thoughts are stirred by bright and shimmering sparkles of future waiting only for us. As I have already told you before, in just a few years I will be a completely free man, having finally retired, for as a investigative judge, as you know very well, I have at least been rewarded for all the horrid torments with my working days being shortened so I will regain my complete freedom at a rather fine age. I will be as free as a bird, oblivious of any traps and before whom the whole sky is lying open, as though made just for the creature and its free wings. We shall fly aloft high into the sky, free as birds, relieved of our quotidian misery and thus we will be able to plunge bravely into the depths of our emotions. We shall give ourselves to each other and cuddle in the safest and warmest refuges of our souls. We shall remember that magically beautiful New Year’s Eve forever; today I am making plans for our future and I am completely engrossed by those appealing, even rapturous, thoughts as though they have already come to life, as though they have become tangible and real, much more real than anything else surrounding me, much more real than murders and robberies, rapes and thefts; now everything seems so detached from me and gone, I am free and sing like a dove on a sunny day. And do you know what I am thinking about, what I am musing over and dreaming about so vividly and so clearly, as though the images given birth by my thoughts are as hard as the wood my chair I am sitting on was made of, firm as steel springs of my bed I dive onto and then again I go back to my desk to write this letter and disclose my secret and hidden thoughts? All ideas lightning through my head seem to turn into the reality and I am so carried away by those elated images emerging right before my eyes from, only until seconds ago, dead, silenced retreats of my soul. And here I shall confide in you everything lying on my mind and in my heart, what my soul is singing about and what my thoughts are interweaving with. I shall confide it to you as the most precious New Year’s gift which I had failed to get for you, please forgive me for I had been in such a hurry, and you had made such a lovely blue scarf yourself, my love and my everything. But now I shall give you a fruit of my passion and ecstasy, my most private wishes of my trembling heart; let my letter find you in peace and happiness only I can wish to you from the deepest corners of my soul. Therefore listen and follow my words carefully for I speak with my whole being, and words I shall chose will be but a pale reflection of what I feel and everything I am imbued with.

I shall buy a house somewhere halfway towards Varazdin, or perhaps in its surroundings, I have not quite made up my mind yet, and I shall build it in two floors to make it magnificent and large and spacious, and there will be a garden all around it. We shall plant fruit trees and green shrubs and some flowers, and you will take care of the garden, while I will scatter fine gravel all over the driveway and arrange all paths, and we must get a colourful, chubby garden gnome to protect you while I am away. And I shall be away for even when free, I will be very busy as I find working hard relaxing and invigorating, it brings a breath of fresh air into a dreary everyday life grinding anything that comes into its way. I shall be busy all days long as I am overwhelmed by chores just like luscious blossoming flower chalices are occupied by bees, collecting pollen grains and drops of fragrant flower juices to create that sweet and delicious honey you will relish and take delight in whenever you feel like it. And then you shall write and create for I love every creation of yours. I love the hand that writes the lines and the mind that leads the hand for I relish your words and your thoughts; your spirit lures me just like those flowers lure those bees that will keep on fussing and scurrying to fill our home with the abundance of everything forever. You just stay by my side for we shall retreat from this stale, gloomy town; we shall find our own luscious meadow, sprinkled with flowers and thus, just like those busy bees, gather sensual juices of birds living up in the blue skies. We shall measure the vastness as against our wings, flying aloft into the heights above our home, the place where abundance and bliss and peace will reign forever, and you shall always remain my oasis of tranquillity, my safe haven, my sanctuary from all the torment and torture, never ceasing to plague me. I am in an eternal hurry between two millstones, grinding everything they happen to catch; I am in an eternal pursuit in this god-forsaken town and the house I am telling you about seems the only true heaven on earth where I will retreat as soon as I break out of this everlasting hectic rush. But no, I shall not rest or idle, I shall work real hard so you can feel free to keep on creating.

Well, this is my New Year’s gift I am giving you right at this moment. It has poured out straight from my heart and let it pour over into your own, pure and untarnished, just the way I made it for you, my dearest one.

Forever yours,

R.

 


10 January

Dear Ksenija,

Everything is over and gone, everything has disappeared like laced ice on your New Year’s Eve windows. How everything elapses at incredible speed! Everything vanishes and disappears in a brief moment in this great mill of life, mill that grinds wheat and weed alike, not caring for good or evil, not caring for life and death, not caring for a man, not even in the slightest. It has caught us both, my dear Ksenija, and it is crushing and grinding us, and eventually it will squash us and spit us out through its hell mouth like commonest garbage, like litter in the street or squashed, burnt butt in an ashtray, like driven and filthy snow slowly melting and turning into mud, like a bog on the road. You see, this is how we are going to end, and I do not mean only the two of us, but this whole miserable, piteous world. I do not come very often, you complain, I neglect you and you moan; yet you know nothing about what goes through my head when in the evenings, at the end of my workday, I hear that damned piece of news which sends me again into the vicious circle of life and death. A colleague of mine, I may even call him a friend, an investigative judge just like myself – we had been working together for a while and we went through some really rough times together - committed suicide. We had seen too many things and we had witnessed what we had already known – life in this town is a hell, real, utter hell, the darkest hell you can barely imagine and picture only in your darkest nightmares. And now he has gone. Ivan died like a dog thrown out into the street on a stormy day, like a bitch in a cub just about to deliver her puppies, like the most wretched thing that has lived under the skies. Today he committed suicide. This is a simple, irrevocable and unquestionable, clear fact, taking your breath away; all of your thoughts suddenly stop and your spirit fades away before that crystal clear and obvious fact there is nothing more you can say – nothing to add, nothing to take back from that indisputable and obvious fact. Suicide, death. With a gun. In the back room while his wife was having an afternoon nap and the children were at school. His wife was asleep, emerged in a chaos of frenzied afternoon dreams, with his children blundering nonsense in their geography class, mixing up Canada and the States, telling stupid jokes at each other’s expense; with his children gluing their chewing gums under their school benches and scribbling around; and at that same moment, at the other end of the town, their father, their own father, their flesh and blood, cocks his revolver and sends the bullet straight into his temple. Oh, yes, he writes a good-bye letter beforehand – dear Lord, I wonder why all those miserable creatures committing suicide never fail to write a suicidal note where they beg those who they leave behind not to fret and muse in vain over what incited them, what made them and nudged them into committing such a shameful and cowardly act – for they have passed their own judgment and there is the One whom they will come before and who will make a much more comprehensive judgement than any of us, miserable mortals, mere bags of bones and veins, filled with stench and excrement. Well, those futile cowards say their farewell to us, to this world, to themselves and their own lives and we are supposed to fell embarrassed and ashamed for we are not even worth of judging them, but they will be judged, finally and irrevocably, by the Lord himself. And they, those wretched piles of misery and bags of destitution, dare to call for the Lord, the ones who have taken their lives and deaths into their own hands and passed their own judgements. But what can we do, I must say again – that is life, that is a heap of misery called life and there is nothing to be done, nor will there ever be.

     And as to myself, you see my darling Ksenija, I have decided to leave. I shall go far away for all that misery and torment makes me nauseous and I am completely fed up with this dreary grey town, and with this country and these people killing each other in the middle of the streets and in their flats, with all the things they have or lack, with their wives and children and everything they were capable of and everything they wanted, but they cannot and will not realise. Therefore I have had quite enough and therefore I shall go away. As soon as I get rid of that burden, I shall set out to Canada or the States. I have already taken all the steps required for the arrangement. I have taken up learning English, making pen friends abroad, looking for connections… I have already been to Canada and Australia and let me tell you, this misery of ours, with investigative judges getting killed like dogs - no, there is no such misery there. And no wretched, petty pensions, and no poverty and despair and torture and hopelessness, there are no such dismal towns sunken into grey clouds of depression, as though they had drowned into the very ocean of fog and eternal stench. No, there are no such things there. In Canada, my love, there is a kingdom of evergreen and realm of civil society where respectable and well off citizens do not pull triggers of guns pointing to their heads so lightly, for only heaven knows what reasons, but surely it must be some kind of hidden insanity, kindled by this very town and chaos ruling its streets. Yes, my darling, I have decided to leave forever and there is nothing to stop me, nothing to distract me or prevent me from doing it. For once I have made up my mind, I do it. Said and done, that is my motto. I shall leave, this is what I have decided and nothing will stand in my way.

I am sorry but I shall finish this letter now for I must be off. I will talk to you soon.

 

Your R.

 

20 January

Dear Ksenija,

You keep complaining how I neglect you and how I stopped coming over to your place, but what can I do about it? I am in such a terrible hurry all days long and I barely have time to finish all things I need to take care of. You are afraid my feelings for you have changed, that I have forgotten all about you, that you no longer live in my heart. And I must tell you – such is life, rushing and roaring before our eyes, sometimes leaving clear and unmistakable traces, sometimes leaving but blurred, vague imprints. No, I have not forgotten about you, but you must understand - this is the very beginning of my brand new life, with so much I yet want and must do and make come true, and you need not worry for there will always be a place for you.

Canada is still luring me, there is not a single day that I do not imagine what a glorious and brilliant life I just might have over there. Then everything else seems so faint and irrelevant in comparison, like a vague trace in snow I pass by every day and fail to notice anymore, while the trace disappears and melts under my feet and starts turning into a muddy pond, and then keeps vanishing until there is nothing left of it, not even the faintest trace. And spring comes bright with sunshine and glorious with heavy blossoms of vaulted tree crowns. You see, spring overwhelms my soul in the same way whenever I think of Canada. I think of you, too, because when I leave and when I find at least the basic things for living, after I have arranged everything, I shall write to you and call you to join me. And I shall give you not more than tree days to make up your mind whether you will come or not. Remember, I shall wait for three days only, and then farewell to you too, the last thing tying me to this lousy town. For here a stale bog of miserable human lives and destinies dwells; it makes me nauseous and makes my stomach cramp whenever I think of it. And Canada, that eternal crimson spring growing exuberantly in my chest, makes me stronger and inspires me to take the next step! What a bliss that is, merely daydreaming about that luscious green, hilly and rocky heaven on earth, criss-crossed with rivers and lakes! I am trying to stick to learning my English whenever I find time, but I will not let such a petty trifle shakes up my firm decision and intention; well, there is nothing that can waver my plans, regardless each and every trap I may find in my way, regardless how many obstacles I may have to face.

And when I think of my life here, I feel a knot tying in my throat, I feel something cramping in my chest. That dreary, lousy marriage of mine I wasted ten years of my life on. I built a house in Varazdin, and toiled and worked like a slave in that restaurant we had, and later as a investigative judge in Zagreb. For I am a worker, diligent and relentless, my darling, and for all that hard work I wasted for nothing here, I would have been a millionaire in Canada. Had I work as hard as here all this time in Canada, there would have been no stopping me! And in this way, after having divorced and leaving everything to my daughter, I live again with my mother in a one bedroom flat, and the only thing I can afford is that pathetic second-hand Audi I have bought on a loan. And how much I sweated and bled while working in a restaurant, the same restaurant that is now closed down and that was sold for a pittance, for next to nothing; how many sleepless nights have I spent at the police station, how many nights have I wasted typing and reading reports and files, how many nights have I spent in morgues and in the streets. And the house I told you I was thinking of buying, well, I shall leave that house to my daughter, just like I left her my half of the house in Varazdin; after all, I am a caring father although we do not see each other quite often. I hardly find time, that is what this is all about, I never seem to find enough time in my everyday rush, in all that racing and frenzying. Life is a mill grinding anything it catches with its stones, I am telling you again and again, life is like two millstones about to grind everything, wheat and weed, you and me alike. I would never remarry here, never tie a knot, never settle down in a nice, cosy place, for I am attracted to far away places, to broad expanses of the world where people do not kill each other for no reason or for mere breadcrumbs, where people know the law and order, where justice and truth are familiar to everybody, and where I shall find my own peace and quiet. And I shall never forget you, it is only that I am all engaged and too busy to come more often. I am writing this letter in a great hurry, anyway, and I am already late for another appointment. I must send some letters to acquaintances of mine living in the States. I shall be coming soon, I shall not forget.

Your R.

 

15 March

Dear Ksenija,

Please, stop whining and crying. I have had enough of your tears, you cry just like all women, and I have always thought you are different from them, special and unique, the only woman I can openly talk to, just like I told right at the beginning when we met, can you remember? Yes, I am getting married in April and that is a decision nothing can change, not even your tears. Did you mean anything to me, did you have your place in my heart? Well, of course you did, but you never turned into my soul mate, for she managed to show me the essence of things, while you played and danced around them, rambled and loitered around like a blind person in the darkness. Mirjana managed to divert my thoughts of what was tormenting me, of everything that was making my life a misery and torturing me painfully and malignly in thousands of ways. Canada is, of course, no longer an option, all those delusions have disappeared with Mirjana around. For she emanates, for she has known me since we were children, we practically grew up together and spent those glittering days of youth together. She knows my soul, and you only surmise; she tries to convince me about the essence and meaning of things, and you only console me; she gives me a firm footing, and you are but a calm corner on the outskirts where I can rest but only for a while. Everything we shared will always remain in my heart, undoubtedly, but that is not enough – I cannot build my future on such shaky foundations. For I build relentlessly and persistently, I shall make my ideas come true, and your vacillitating wait, your eager expectations, your unreliable and shimmering illusion of your confiding words would not be helpful whatsoever. I can feed on them only temporarily for my hunger is much greater, it needs much more nourishing food to soothe it. Mirjana is the only one who is capable of providing it. She has drawn my attention to the futility of my relentless quest; she is not a fragile flower like yourself, exposed unprotected to any storm and winds in open plains; she is strong and wide, strong and sturdy harbour any ship can find its safe haven. And I need such a haven, not only a tiny shelter under a lee of a bay where I can rest but for a day before I am caught by another gust of wind and taken to the see the very next day. No, no, I am telling you, everything is over, I have realised everything was just running in the circle and there was no more to it. Canada is no heaven, picket fence on the outskirts is no heaven either; heaven is just being born in my own soul, it is rising up in a crimson dawn. Stop crying, I beg of you. That is life, I have always been telling you that, life is like millstones ceaselessly grinding wheat and weed, everything they happen to catch, even you and me. That is life and you should reconcile yourself to that. Some are cut down by a sharp, swishing scythe of destiny while some cope with it more skilfully than you can even imagine. You are wondering how come this has been so sudden, unexpected. For that is life, I am telling you again, life is a torrent grabbing anything in its way, with some getting drowned and others rising up on the ridge, and taking them up on the rolling waves. That is life, please try to understand that. And try to reconcile yourself to that. You shall always remain in my heart.

R.

Philosopher

 

A timid early spring night was coming down from the skies when I drove up to the wide passage into the Student Centre, partly closed by a wooden swing gate, with a STOP sign attached. The traffic was not as busy as during the day, vehicles were wiggling slowly in this bluish spring evening and announcing tranquillity as usually spills over Zagreb in days like this one, or particularly on Saturdays and Sundays. And I made up my mind to watch that particular play on that particular Saturday of an early spring at the ITD theatre. But to my surprise, though the traffic was not heavy and it seemed to have drooped after racing all day long, all the parking spaces in front of the Student Centre were taken. The cars were cramming next to each other, in a line not finishing even outside the bookshop, but running and crawling around the trees down the street. Large and tiny, expensive and cheap, blue and white, green and red, created a colourful necklace round the neck of Savska Street and its small parking lot. And the access into the inner yard of the Student Centre was prevented by a STOP sign, nice and red, of rhomboid shape, swaggering at the entrance, and there was no passing by. I stopped my car in a narrow space between the wooden gate and the last parked car of metallic grey colour and I got out of it. I walked about the car, paced the distance to the sign, moved back and then forward again trying to figure out, with carefully paced steps of an experienced and skilful surveyor, the distance between the sign and the nearest edge of my car, measuring if other vehicles, allowed to enter that mysterious and forbidden inner yard, were able to squeeze between my car and the sign. I was walking around, back and forth, to and fro, left and right and I got quite convinced I must have been a really thorough and resourceful surveyor in my former life, never failing to measure and examine closely each and every inch of the ground. Now in this life the same was happening again, just like with the surveyor I must have been in my previous lives, and this was where my skills in assessing came from while measuring the pavement, studying the driveway and estimating the distance from the holy yard, exclusively meant for the sanctified ones with the licence to enter. Having measured and surveyed, assessed and calculated, I finally came to a conclusion that the space between my car and the sign may, though, be quite enough for another car, but there could not have been enough space for a van or, let alone, a lorry. And thus, at that mysterious sign of the destiny that often makes us trod unbeaten and utterly strange paths we would have never normally taken, I went towards the doorman’s booth, bright with neon lights. By an architect’s whim, the booth was a box standing rather high above the pavement so even at a close range you could not see clearly who was overlooking the chance passers-by and their cars, more to their hindrance than help as mostly turns out, just like was the case with me on that particular evening, specially when it comes to finding a parking space. Not distinguishing clearly a figure in the booth, I decided to go over there to ask for advice where to put my car while watching the play, or if I might leave my car there just where it was, should there be no magnificent cars driving in, those of some student organisation or the other, or the Teachers’ Union, which I boldly presumed as highly unlikely on a Saturday evening. But you never know. Therefore I went up those three or four steps to the booth and stopped in front of the door which stood ajar.

There were two men standing inside. One was wearing a white coat and seemed like a doctor on a call, wandered off by a mere chance into a doorman’s booth of the Student Centre. He was taller and seemed much calmer and more composed, as though he had come to terms with destiny’s whims that brought him as far as here, while his righteous place being a city hospital, at the emergency ward, where his white coat would be absolutely becoming, and not stand out and be as striking as it was there. The other man was shorter, with nimble and supple movements, for I noticed him right in the middle of making a wide wave with his arm, as though he was pointing somewhere, in direction which seemed incredibly important from the large windows of the booth. His movements seemed almost fateful as though the fate of the whole human kind depended on him, poor creatures lost in the wastelands and side-tracks, gone astray by overengrossment with themselves. I stopped at the door, obviously interrupting an already kindled discussion, for the other man’s eyes were on flames and his movements vigorous as though he was just saving that same astray human kind from horrific torments in hell inevitably threatening them if they do not at that very moment, pull themselves together and come to their senses. The first man seemed to have reconciled with the astray human kind and as though he was completely aware this is the fate humanity quite righteously has met, and there is nothing more to say to that, nothing to add or take away for humanity is unstoppably rushing into its own ruin; he can only casually observe in his white robe and that is all. There is nothing to say or do, unless somebody sprains an ankle and only then the first man will adjust it, immobilise it or put it in a plaster. That is absolutely everything there is for him to do. Therefore, or at least so it seemed to me, he was indifferently listening, in all the glory of the sacrosanctity of his white attire, to ardent lamentation of the other man, so abruptly interrupted. And he was in charge of that holy and untouchable, mysterious and sacred – so much did his importance grow in my mind – passage between the car and the STOP sign. It was all up to him if that impenetrable and unsurpassable gate, as though made of the hardest steel and not of mere, fragile wood, would go up for me to drive in and thus be spared of most horrid torments I would be exposed to during the play while thinking whether my car would be towed away, then I would have to walk all the way home and above all, pay enormous fine for the offence committed. The whole thing depended on the good will of the rather short, yet very nimble Napoleon who the other man had transformed and grown into in my eyes, as he had been given a judicial role on that early spring evening in presiding over my destiny. Thus I decided to act firmly and decisively, absolutely self-confidently, as though by asking for passage through the holy gate I ask merely for my undeniable right and execution of already pronounced ruling of the court as passed in my favour. And then my Napoleon, as I named him, stopped, just like I said before, in the middle of his ardent debate and was now staring at me, now wavering before the scene of the doom of the human kind suddenly emerging before me while standing at the door of the Student Centre booth. So I spoke: “Could you please, well, tell me… my car… I parked it over there, would it hinder the passage, or shall I park it somewhere else… you know, there are no vacancies so I thought… if you would perhaps… well, let me drive into the yard…”

I was hesitating and stammering, and that was a real bad sign, I could tell from barely visible movements of disapproval of the other man, whom I had not been able to name properly by that time. But the first man, known as the Napoleon of the great battles for the passage to the yard of the Student Centre, seemed to have be even more infuriated by my hesitation, as though it had added more fuel to his ardour and rage, as though merely my appearance at the door of the booth, his headquarters for those many battles fought at the Holy Passage and his temple for his many prayers, boiling with fervency of exertion, and for his gratitude to the Lord; he seemed to have given him more zest to fight in this ultimate battle to save the humanity. For you never know, when I come to think more clearly, where that final and crucial battle for human salvation might be fought – in parliaments of doorman’s booths, in city halls or streets, this is really impossible to foresee, if you think of it better. And my Napoleon seemed to be right in the middle of such a decisive battle, or so I fancied in those five minutes before my play was about to start, the one I might not even be late for if this dispute should be ruled out to my benefit. But I was wrong, not even comprehending how and why at that moment. Well, soon enough, my Napoleon was not what he had seemed and what I fancied him for in my fervent imagination, but a real, genuine, and by the way, uneducated, but utterly authentic – philosopher! How come, you must be wondering, and I shall tell you everything soon enough, just be patient for a little longer and you will get it all laid out clearly, as clearly as it was all settled in the head of my ill-fated Napoleon. He spoke, enhancing his words with brisk and sharp movements as though his whole body suddenly came to life after a most terrible shock, and now he is waving his hands about, testing their strength and briskness:

“Yes, right, I saw you and I already started to think to myself – you can possibly think of staying in that place where you parked your car, and ‘park’ is not even a proper word for that, you simply left your car. Not even a smaller car could drive past, let alone a lorry, and they are just about to take out the swill… come on, take your car over there”, he said making a sharp movement with his arm pointing to a place opposite my car. “And you go”, he spoke to me, “right behind him and we shall arrange everything just fine.”

My ill-fated Napoleon spoke so fast and in such heat that he made me believe proper parking is the key to the human salvation, for such an ardour must have been incited by an absolutely extraordinary and profound reason, such an ecstasy can’t have poured out from nowhere, such fireworks of words and movements are not let off for trifles, but only for grandiose and respectable reasons. And it seemed to me it was exactly the issue of proper parking outside the Student Centre that my Napoleon kept his eyes on so watchfully.

The other man waved his hand indifferently and added calmly: “If I park over there, I will stand in the way of other cars.”

“But we must sort this out somehow”, went on Napoleon, now starting to look more and more like the real Napoleon to me while the flames of his rage were growing bigger and bigger, even his height was appropriate. “The lorry with the swill is about to come, and it can’t drive past this lady’s car. I’m telling you nicely to park over there, on the opposite side so that the lady can put her car in the line with other cars.” His short utterance was accompanied by fervent bending and arduous waving.

The other one replied in a rather increased voice: “No way, it won’t be good, it won’t work that way, I’ll block the passage for the others and there’ll be a traffic jam.”

“But I’m telling you again, loud and clearly, a lorry can’t drive past, and it should be here any moment now. And it can’t drive past this lady’s car, and I’m not allowed to let her in, into the yard, well I thought I was absolutely clear…”. Napoleon was waving his arms about and foam seemed to have appeared in the corners of his mouth.

The other man shrugged. “Let then the lady find a parking space somewhere in the town.”

This was a sentence too much. Napoleon exploded as though a powder barrel went up in flames to a single, tiny match. An unstoppable torrent of words burst out: “Oh, I know all of that too well, it happens everywhere you look, everywhere you go. You think and say things simply and clearly, you give irrefutable facts, you defend your points of view, not even God himself could do it better, and all that for nothing, your arguments are futile as though talking to the deaf and showing a candle to the blind. I keep crashing into that omnipresent stubbornness, the same dullness, the same blindness and deafness to clear and argumented thoughts and obvious evidences. I strive and seek, I try to figure out all possible ways to convince and prove, but all in vain, everything is unavailing as though I don’t talk at all, as though I’m not a being capable of reflecting and reasoning, as though I’ve been immersed into the world of ignorance and blindness, deafness and slackness, disability of the human kind! Right, that’s exactly what it is, disability, permanent and innate, a fatal disease with no cure, that’s what it is, I’m telling you, and I can see it absolutely everywhere. I show people a direction, I show them where and how to park properly without being in the way of lorries passing into the yard, I lift up and lower down the swing gate, I take particular care of the STOP sign for it tells them the way, I direct the traffic through the yard as to avoid cramming and jamming, I strive with all of my strengths, I’m dead tired and completely exhausted of all that toil – but all in vain. It’s all insufficient and worthless for however you show them the way, wherever you direct them, regardless the time of day or night, nothing comes of it, there are jams and displeasure and shouting and shrieking and yelling, lorries can’t drive through the arch, and now they are just about to take out the swill…”

Napoleon made a short intermission, interrupting the torrent of words, having spilt out so forcefully and unexpectedly that I stood there startled at realising all the soberness of my own crime, committed right in front of the doorman’s booth of this such an obvious fighter for human rights and salvation of the human kind, of this dignified and illustrious, this righteous and truthful nobleman of the human kind suddenly appearing before me and standing in all of his grandeur. For such toilers are rarely met nowadays, particularly in doorman’s booths. The first man, the one in the white coat, did not seem particularly impressed by the preaching for he kept gazing indifferently past Napoleon, or rather, ultimate, natural-born thinker on the real nature of the essence and the being, and then he calmly dropped the ash from his half-burnt cigarette. And my Napoleon among philosophers contemplating over human temper, caught some breath in the short intermission and then resumed erupting words from his innards, accompanying them with fervent gestures.

“And the same things, just like these happening in my own booth, happen, my dear friends, absolutely everywhere, wherever you go, wherever you set your foot, it’s all the same and it never stops, never ceases, and you can’t find a peaceful corner, not a single moment of rest from that eternal chaos”. Now I was quite convinced my Napoleon was a philosopher. “Just run down to the news agent’s and buy, no, you don’t even need to buy, just have a look at the front page of any newspapers and you’ll get it all. And it’s not only for today or tomorrow, but for every single day, no exceptions and no changes, horrors and disasters absolutely everywhere. You can’t tell what page to turn to, the front looks just like the back page, no difference there whatsoever. The front makes you enraged and you are overwhelmed with the horror over all the monstrosities of this world. And whatever pages you choose you don’t even bother to read, you just leaf through and see all the same and indistinguishable things. Not even the back page gives you any comfort, there’s nothing to encourage and cheer you up in terms of the human nature I spoke about before, that perverse nature and atrocities of human temper. You simply can’t believe what people are capable of doing. Both the new authority, just like the old one, both children and drooling old people but not having become any smarter, any wiser, both men and women alike, politicians like priests, it’s all the same, my dear friends, everything keeps repeating itself, and that is the fate of the world.”

The other man put out his cigarette and leaned against the doorframe with his arms crossed. I was staring at the freshly discovered philosopher, seeker after the Truth, Justice and Order who suddenly, when I last expected it, resurrected before me. I could barely believe my eyes and ears when he commenced, in a completely undisturbed vehemence of lamentation as though he had finally found a place and time to relieve his thoughts on the nature of the world and its creatures. Thus he proceeded:

“And how many contradictory opinions, how many opposing points of view there are! It is incredible how humans fancy they are capable of sorting out secrets and mysteries of the universe beyond human comprehension, and all that only by means of their own petty minds, not even understanding how lost they are in the chaos they created themselves, with their own hands and perverse language. Here, I read in the Evening Post how researches of Mars have shown there, at the red planet, there is life. What life, for Heaven’s sake, people, what life could be there in the red desert, lonely and cast away from the Sun into a scorching desert air of utter redness! As though we haven‘t had enough of redness and redding. It’s clear where it all comes from - from that twisted human nature imagining it’s capable of solving and unveiling everything with their limited minds, and, well, we’ve already seen, what’s red communism like, showed what kind of delusions arise when you think people are equal to God himself and God himself was born out of their twisted minds! And it’s all those bloody Russians’ fault, I know that all too well, it’s their probes that are on Mars, theirs and nobody else’s, and now they’ve come up with ideas of spreading their sick communist ideas all the way to Mars for it’s, by its own ill-fated nature, a red planet. Now they imagine, if the planet is red, then the whole life there must be red as well. As if I don’t know that, as if I hadn’t figured it out from the scarce lines they dropped casually, on the back page of the Evening Post…”

“But I’m mostly annoyed by controversies. For if a man is a twisted and pervert creature by his nature, he should admitted to it, announce and reveal it and thus finally lay down his arms before the impossible battle to fathom God. Let him then throw himself upon God’s mercy for he is not worthy of any pity. Oh, dear, how many inconsistency in human thinking there are, what how human contemplation swarms with flaws and logical mistakes, how many controversies in even most commonplace utterances! Take for example the Evening Post, they talk of pension increase. It’s all fine, let there be an increase in pensions. But how can you know how much to increase pensions appropriately when old biddies coming to fruit and vegetable markets moan and groan how everything is overpriced and they hardly make a living on their small pensions, barely able to pay for their electricity, and then the united multitude of those same biddies give their votes for a party whose programme doesn’t include increasing pensions, not even at the end of their list, let alone doing something about it! Or, have a look at today’s youngsters. Nowadays they are infatuated by Zen Buddhism or Buddhism in general. All right, let it be so, I say. Buddhism like Buddhism, this or that, as long as it’s fashionable and in, anything will go for the astray and twisted youth, that’s what I say. But have a closer look at that Buddhism, have a good and careful look and then think about all the controversies it implies, I mean, really, it bristles with controversies. And Buddhism is a great worldly religion. I can’t figure out what’s wrong with Christianity, everybody’s gone mad about Buddhism, which is also a religion, so where’s the difference? And then I took up reading about Buddhism. It says you’ll achieve enlightenment through mental concentration, and enlightenment is some kind of liberation, like some kind of nirvana, an immersion in a purified consciousness and then you, allegedly, finally fathom who and what you are like. I told myself, OK, if you finally understand who and what you are like, then you must comprehend how twisted and perverse you are, lost like an astray sheep detached from its flock. If you realise that as you are supposed to, and you can read all about it every day on the pages of the Evening Post, at the front and the back pages alike, when you eventually fathom that and become aware, then, for God’s sake, you’ll ultimately stop doing insanities, reject  perversities and viciousness. Then you shall cease being a paedophile, a debauchee, a corrupt politician, an atheist preacher, an adulterer, or any of those various creatures I read about every single day in the Evening Post. But, the hell! Brothers, there’s no such thing in Zen Buddhism, not in the slightest; there isn’t even a trace of it but quite on the contrary! Alas, you are free to do everything as to your own nature without any remorse or guilt. Right in those words – no guilt, with no reproach whatsoever, without a single thought you might’ve done something wrong, for you do everything by your free will and from the depths of your own being, and since you do it from your inner self, it means it’s all good and proper, best it can get. Can you even imagine what pervert creatures those Buddhists are! And Socrates laid his life for he wanted to induce some law and order into that perverse human nature, still being praised and glorified in various religions all over the world!”

“And you studied philosophy?”, I dared to interrupt the torrent of words, flooding and pouring all over the booth; but the flood did not stop there, it kept running out and deluging the rest of the world which, as we had just established, was obviously saturated and poisoned with that degenerated misfit called the human spirit and perverse fancy of so called Zen Buddhism. And my innocent remark caused the whole eruption of words.

“’Study’, what does ‘study’ mean anyway? I fathomed it, grasped it and cut through right into its essence, that’s what I’ve done”, snapped my Napoleon of contemporary philosophers. For the question was so obviously inappropriate and completely misplaced. But I had no clue as to what my improper question would induce and what I should reap. For I incited a new torrent of utterances and thoughts that swoop aloft and slashed then through the already dark spring sky, frowning down as though surmising storm and confirming the words of a newly discovered Philosopher.

“And those controversies I’ve told you about, which seem inherent to human nature, in that great fabrication called philosophy, are even exaggerated and crowned in self proclaimed systems. There’s no greater controversy and paradox than in the glorious science, fancying the name the love for wisdom. There you can find all the disgrace of human mind and all degeneration of human nature in its purest expression. And how those petty doctors of philosophy and all those various social sciences only brag in the newspapers and what arguments they use to attack each other, it’s a shame and deterioration world has not yet seen! They jump at each other’s throats like enraged dogs over a piece of meat and snatch words from each other’s mouths, they manoeuvre viciously and throw lies and concoctions like logs before each other’s feet. And all that started, that vicious and poisonous envy among people, oh, yes, that all started with Plato and Aristotle, it’s been going on since their attempts to bring down democracy and glorify aristocratic authority in their perfect states. How can a state be perfect if there is no democracy there, will somebody please explain that?! But, no, that Plato fellow concocted a state where everybody shall be equal, just like pigs in a pigsty and women shall be common and their children shall be brought up with no origin, no heritage and no family trees, as common offspring, just like little piglets in the sty. And nobody else but His Majesty the Philosopher shall rule over all of them. If he were able to be the best ruler that had been remembered in the history of human kind, our Plato would have provided it with ideas, quite right, noting else but with the multitude of idle and futile ideas emerging from the most magnificent mind of all, or simply, from the mind of the Philosopher himself. For everything has been set up on ideas, everything has propped and sprung up, grown and derived from ideas, nothing else but ideas, which in other words means from fabrications and fiddlings of a human mind. How many of such ideas have presided over this miserable world of ours, we even felt it in our own experience when comrades set all the measures and rationed our pieces of bread and glasses of water. What profusion of perverse ideas has already ruled and reigned over this piteous world; that’s what those twisted historians who deliberately, and I mean deliberately when I say this, alter and adjust history to their own liking so now the Middle Ages are so dark it can’t get any darker and then they are quite nice and above all the epitome of human rights and freedom as never seen before or after in the whole of human history. And then Aristotle, out of pure spite and envy and with rancour towards his teacher, and as it’s innate to a human being, that pathetic bag of misery and destitution, he wanted to rise above him and become not merely his pupil but a dominant and overpowering teacher himself; it’s then when this villain of Aristotle implemented those same ideas into things and said ideas are immanent to things just as is their form, with those materialized forms afterwards striving and aspiring towards their peak, ultimate form, pure form, the most pristine form one can imagine. And when Blatavska and theosophists claim God is in everything, modern day materialists ridicule at them and turn them into a mere laughingstock. And that is the most truthful teaching, which I realized and now have absolutely no doubts about it while reading and studying all those books”- at that point Napoleon among philosophers waved his hand towards the corner and pointed at a pile of dirty books with yellowish, ragged pages. “I study all kinds of sciences at the University Library after I finish my work here, a toil that has no beginning and no ending - such is a perverse human nature that you can’t make them respectful of rules and order, neither by asking nor by ordering them, neither by threatening nor by cajoling them – that’s exactly what their persistence is like when it comes to causing disorder and chaos at exactly those places where it is outright forbidden with the STOP sign. A blind would be able to see it and a deaf to hear it, but there is no way to deal with that raging mob, there is no remedy for the pitiful human nature; how many times must I say that to make it quite clear. Is this clear?”

Napoleon looked at me closely; I was completely innocent, yet I was numbed by the torrent of  his “justified rage”, I was absolutely certain of it. What chaos and disorder must be ruling throughout human thoughts and behaviour that they cannot even comprehend they are suppose to stop, obediently and politely, in front of the STOP sign. I simply could not pinpoint why. However, after a short yet very loud pause, Napoleon commenced his outburst, energetically slashing his hands through the air and his whole body was swaying to and fro, left and right, backwards and forwards in clear-cut movements. “There’s no way out for this astray humanity, there’s no beginning and no ending to human silliness, stupidity and arrogance. And the more I study that human nature, the more nauseous and torn apart I get, I’m overwhelmed by omnipresent horror for I’ve realised apocalypse is just around the corner, not only because of the global warming and environmental pollution, but because of pollution coming from human thoughts and actions. That’s what I say, that’s where the real source of pollution is, for Plato was slightly right after all, when he claimed everything arises from ideas. Of course he was not absolutely right, that’s quite clear after you’ve had a closer look at his ideal state, yet there are bits of truth in what he said. What kind of things a man is capable of making up, that’s an absolute shame, that’s beyond anybody’s comprehension…

Napoleon stopped in the middle of an utterance. I thought there must be another storm coming up, but he suddenly seemed to have remembered something. He stopped, stood upright and stared at me.

“And you lady, will you finally pass through? Shall I let you into the yard or will you eventually, having hesitated and wavered for so long, park your car in some other place? Soon a swill lorry will be passing here. Come on, make up your mind, you’ve been standing here motionlessly for an hour, and I’m still waiting for you to come to a decision – drive through into the yard or move the car. For God’s sake, woman, I’ve never seen such a vacillitating creature in my whole life.”

He was right. Napoleon was, just as always absolutely right. I was standing in front of a doorman’s booth, just outside the Student Centre, as though I had been under a spell, and I hadn’t moved a slightest bit for the whole hour, completely oblivious my own car and the parking space and the play, now beyond any sense to mention at all and most likely closing to its end. I jumped up pricked by his sharp arrow of words and stuttered: “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”, I felt really guilty, I’ll be gone this very moment…”

I turned round, and feeling still dizzy, I set out towards my car. With my thoughts racing like mad inside my head and incapable of shaking off the impression of everything that had been happening only until moments ago, I sat in my car and moved it a little. I kept wavering a while, but then heavy spring shower raindrops, already pelting against my windshield, made me move forward, away from the place where I had to face a brand new Thinker. I was driving slowly along the emptied streets of a silenced town bathing in the rain, while a thought kept lightning through my head: “Have ideas conceived the world or are they only racing through the heads of perverse humans? And if so, who is going to save the humanity of humanity itself?”

 

A DUEL IN THE MOSCOW STATE LIBRARY

 

There is an old joke, which is not funny at all, but a naked truth. Therefore it stimulates a special laughing organ, hidden somewhere deep in the little grey cells of people, a joke about a reign of a certain emperor. The emperor had informants he had sent out to mingle with the commoners as to found out from the horse’s mouth, right in the midst of his people what they felt like and if his reign was to their liking or disliking. The informants came back. The emperor asked: “So how do my subjects feel about my reign?” The informants replied: “The people are shouting, protesting, crying – the noise is everywhere!” The emperor said calmly: “Good, increase taxes.” And the taxes rose suddenly in the empire, all through the roof. After a while the emperor sent out his informants among the commoners as to establish the effect of his measures on the people. The informants came back and thus they spoke to the emperor: “The people have ceased protesting and shouting, but they grumble and clench their hands in their empty pockets.” The emperor did not think twice this time either but said calmly: “Increase the taxes some more!” Thus the taxes suffocated and choked the people more they were able to bear. This time the informants came back from the people to their emperor’s order and spoke to the emperor: “The people have shut up like a clam.” These words upset the emperor greatly and he ordered: “Revoke all the taxes, annul all the levies immediately!” For when the people are quiet the emperor is about to face some serious trouble, this is like a noose tightening around his neck.

As I said before, the joke is old and not funny at all, and you are probably wondering what does it have to do with a duel and Moscow State Library. Alas, the story is rather long and begins in 1992, when I found myself in Moscow, right in the middle of perestroika and glasnost. The Berlin Wall came down, T-shirts featuring Gorbachov’s picture were worn all over the USA, the great empire of the Soviet Union was falling apart and a new world was being born. Jokes became a talk everywhere and public – not like those times when a student told a joke at a friend’s tea-party during Stalin’s era and got arrested the very next day. First imprisoned, then sent to Siberia. Oh, no, this is a time of glasnost and jokes are told loudly, followed by a resounding laughter, with no hidden terror of being sent to a labour camp.

On my journey throughout the new world I first stayed at Yuri’s place in Kiev. Ukrainian enthusiasm about the reformation and prospects of separating from the newly formed Russian Federation was immense. At the time, the youth from Kiev gathered at parties and fiercely criticized the age of labour camps and purges. But jokes, just like in the old times, were not political but those stemming out of national folklore and national heritage – their main character was a lieutenant Rzhevsky who was famous for being a ladies’ man and a heartbreaker. Humorous tales circled around about this incredible character, always spiced up with some erotic charge of this fabulous lover, far better than Casanova himself.

After staying in Kiev, where I was enchanted by a seductive flair of lieutenant Rzhevsky, I found myself in Moscow. There I stayed at another friend’s place, at Ivan Ivanovich’s, a history and political science student. He was a brisk, a bit fanatic young man, completely engrossed in studying Russian and Soviet history. From an early morning until late at night he used to wander through the endless maze of Moscow State Library, in search of documents, rolls, reports and every available historical evidence that might help prove his favourite thesis on the superiority and all-mightiness of the Russian history among histories of so many other peoples. Ivan Ivanovich was an ardent supporter of the historical development of the Russian people within the total world history. And he was really cross when once, at a party with friends of his, he heard a joke on Stalin, Lenin and Brezhnev. The joke placed the aforementioned three characters on the heavenly clouds where from they watched what was going on in Russia  during perestroika. Lenin asked Stalin: “Tell me, did you construct anything?” Stalin said: “No, it never even crossed my mind to do that.” Lenin asked Brezhnev the same question: “Did you construct anything?” He retorted: “Of course not. I may have demolished something, but never constructed.” Lenin said: “If we haven’t built anything, what then are they reconstructing?” The joke is hard to translate because of the pun with words “construct” and “reconstruct” in Russian, but the bottom line is that if nothing is constructed, then there is nothing to redesign, reconstruct or make over. However, the joke in Russian must have arose my friend’s fury, the discussion started if Catherine the Great used her female charm and art of seduction to dissuade Turkish sultan, already up and running, from attacking Russia, and if only her unsurpassed lovemaking skills, such as those of lieutenant Rzhevsky but in a female body, managed to spare miserable, poor Russia, completely unprepared for a war, from an inevitable defeat – at which my friend lost his patience.

“Are you saying the whole Russian history is based on bad jokes?”, furiously asked Ivan.

His close friend, Simon Simonovich, with completely opposed views to those of Ivan’s and who thought Russia wasted its chances to have any mentioning-worth role in the historical swarming and boiling of the world, replied casually: “What is Russian history but a mere joke, will you tell me that?”

“Not only your jokes are inappropriate and not funny, but they offend hearts of every genuine Russian and patriot!”, Ivan fumed on. “And how dare you to call Catherine the Great a lover of a Turkish sultan when Turks disappeared and were expelled from the Caucasus during Russian-Turkish war?”

“I say the joke about Catherine is not a joke but a historical fact”, replied Simon Simonovich calmly.

“What gives you the right to say so?”, Ivan Ivanovich kept shouting at Simon Simonovich.

“Not only by the evidence of oral tradition and secret documents not available for the public but also from Turkish sources”, said Simon.

“Turkish sources only taint and blemish Russian victories and would do anything to discredit all Russian dignitaries and creators of our history”, Ivan was getting more feverish.

“There are creditable sources, and there is re-tailoring history”, Simon was bored.

“Well, if so, I challenge you to a duel at Moscow State Library where we shall measure up our strengths and discover the truth”, Ivan Ivanovich might have as well slapped Simon Simonovich in his face.

“I accept. Tomorrow at five in the afternoon, at the State Library”, said Simon. “I shall be there at five sharp”, accepted Ivan.

Thus the joke on Catherine the Great turned into a challenge to a duel, not remembered since the time of Pushkin. It seems the age of glasnost was not the best time to be loud.

And on the top of the world, on its highest dome, the very peak of the world known to me, at the State Library even today called Leninka, whose name everybody, with honest respect and worshipping awe, utters in a subdued voice, with deep, or so it seems, comprehension for researching ventures of scientific, historical and other minds, for all the seekers looking for something on the shelves of the library (Leninka, by the way, was robbed, its treasure was looted; the seekers are deprived of many valuables – thus great is the worshipping self-sacrifice of the un-extinct kind of National Treasure worshippers) - that point offers but most magnificent views. The top is hard, really hard to reach. With a bit of luck, you need to pick up exactly that book which is hidden in those chambers situated on the top of the world known to me. I was that lucky – I was looking for Blavatska and her “Mystical Tribes in the Blue Mountains” and by means of my pet-hate Blavatska I reached the top of the world. Will anybody now dare to call Blavatska completely worthless and say theosophists sought for the pinnacle in vain? This is where they are in Moscow Library – at the tops of chambers called reading rooms. When the Book of Peaks is found with a bit of luck, like Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” which a librarian, having finally found it, placed it in their librarian order next to physics, thus we think Aristotle is a kind of forerunner of theosophical Blavatska; thus we think there is something beyond the nature Aristotle had no clue about – not that it matters. Therefore, when a luck-stricken book is found (a search resembles a favourite game of Russian roulette except a bullet brings pinnacles in terms of architecture not death), then the search for it turns into frantic wanderings. First of all, you need to fill in reader’s ticket with your requests, then find a person you need to hand in the ticket, then wait until the searcher, replacing the requester, sets out to the marked place where the requested is, then breathe in the stuffy air of worm-holed drawers and librarian tickets, then wander along an endless maze of huge and a little smaller halls, run like a dog chasing its own tail when looking for entrances and exits, passages from one end to another; pass a hundred and one time through halls impossible to memorize with the only available indications being whispering passers-by who must be finding their ways by senses of touch and smell, as sharp as if they were hound dogs, on the hunt for the prey called the Book (most definitely capitalized, this is not a mistake, for the Book is not just any book, but a sanctity, a modern day saint, a sacred creation being Bookworshipped in pious rites of filling in library tickets and the quest in the wasteland of the world called Moscow State Library). Then after a wasteland-quest finally return to the knowledgeable librarian, most certainly resembling an Alexandrian librarian who mistakenly adds up Meta- to Aristotle, as if merely Physics was not enough, and thus find the signpost pointing to the top of the world known to me. After you have managed to get hold of the magical piece of paper, which additionally forced you to queue, in a long wiggling line of a dragon’s tail constantly emerging in lines coming out of readers’ halls and chambers, tiny rooms with ancient lamps and lacking partitions that were supposed to have been put so that everybody is able to read from the books of their neighbours; after you have passed all the way through as if through the labyrinths of Joseph K by Kafka, who is wandering through the labyrinth of the Last Judgement of bureaucratic urge to fill in redundant and killing pieces of paper, after you have passed all that and finally got hold of the magical ticket, then the quest starts all over again. This time using different guidelines that will most certainly take you to the top. When entering Leninka up the grandiose steps starting down in the street, continuing onto the another grandiose staircase within the very edifice, then you reach the first landing of shelves with neatly written tickets and signature marks. There from you set out on an adventure of finding a place where your long-awaited reading of the Book with a Capital B shall finally come to existence. To your right there is a row of reading halls, the first one being a chamber where you are to pick up the book, then a huge hall with reading boxes lit with old lamps, connected with a smaller hall with a kind of a doorway. To your left there is a consecrated seat of the Great Librarian, for all the previous ones were assisting librarians, whereas the Great orders the Book for you and directs you where to go to be finally able to read it. From that place there are endless flights of stairs diffusing outwards, wooden stairs with ornate rails and little wooden rounded squares at every turn. The stairs are crossed with many corridors and passages taking you to right mazes of readers’ halls and left mazes of bureaucratic stations for ticketing, as well as minor chambers for the Rite of Consecrated Reading of Special Books and magazines (not capitalized) and they take you upstairs to the top or downstairs into uncharted depths of the underground world, ending with a dirty restaurant where you can get instant coffee – a few grains of brownish powder and some boiling hot water from a broken, dirty and half-detached basin. The restaurant is however not easy to reach. For the steps do not run directly into the gorge of hell called Hot Boiling Water from the Dirty Basin but there is a separate flight of stairs whose ceiling is a corridor, with stairs running downwards along a special route you would most definitely not remember on the way back. The whole quest takes place in terribly stuffy and sweltering air, fraught with evaporation and odours from the kitchen which, luckily, do not go further than the ceiling corridor. If you are lucky and with a fine sense of smell you can use the corridor to get to the foot of the edifice, below grandiose, magnificent stairs you took so boldly and hopefully the first time you wanted to reach the first floor or the stations of Minor Librarians. While you are climbing up, however, if you are resourceful enough and manage to skip the entrance and reach the first floor landing, then you are facing the ascend to the very top. The ascend is easy up the flight of stairs, but it gets complex once you have reached the top, which you were so eager about. There is a crossroad there for those who wish to stay on the top floor and for those who climb on, in a bold attempt to find attic chambers for reading Consecrated Books. The very top comprises Books by Russian Emigrants, by them only, in special editions, that had been published all over the world. You need to be particularly careful at the crossroad because you are to face not one but a dozen corridors you reach by a myriad of steps. The way to the reading room is round, passing a row of corridors: go straight, then turn left, then left again, continue straight and you will be able to find what you are looking for at the last turn. After a random search and by a pure chance, you will have found a reading room of the Books by Russian Emigrants – first you will find yourself in a tiny lounge, or rather a small corridor, where you hand in your ticket. Afterwards there is some more waiting, as usual. There, at that very spot and at that moment you can safely detach yourself from all other chambers, corridors, doorways, Major and Minor Librarians, for you have crossed the finish line, you can take a rest now. Then go to the first landing, after a row of corridors to your left and to your right, and catch your breath, breathe in some fresh air at the open window and you will feel as if you were in Tibet, the Top of the World, as somebody who has just passed the hardest exam and the greatest test, not a simple alpine success but a horrendous and daring Spiritual Quest, accompanied by physical challenges and trying out riveted leather shoes, by Hardworking Spiritual Road that can be described only with the phrase “A soul is looking for the way out of an inhibiting body” (through the nose, for example, although the Tibetans speak of a hole on the top of the head through which a spirit leaves having conquered all mortal temptations and going towards Buddha and other liberated and enlightened creatures). On the Top of the World I Know a fresh ray of air plays through the open window and every breath is a real reincarnation after stuffy, sweltering, unhealthy hot air of all the journey you have just finished. Fragrant air spreads all about the top, the views are shadowed by a slight rain you feel as if here dwelt all resurrected ghosts of Stolen Books that, even after their stolen deaths, keep looking for their eternal resting place on the shelves in Moscow State Library. Revived demons from the Tibetan books of the dead seem to be dwelling here, along with embodied Buddhas in visionary, barely visible landscapes. You feel as if Blavatska had just passed by, thoughtful and carrying a piece of ivory from the Top of the Blue Mountains and its mystical inhabitants. Here shadows of misunderstood and famous but shot poets wander around, here authors create plots of their characters’ suicides, here consecrated bones of novelist-saints dwell, here Muses abide on their Olympus; this is where clouds shift their shapes in most incredible forms beyond description – or perhaps as Lyermontov’s mountain pastures, battlefields for Tatars and Cherkes; this is where all souls of weary authors of historical novels permanently abide, all female authors whose lives ended in unromantic labour camps where they recited Yevgeny Onegin and hummed arias for the Queen of Spades, only to keep themselves sane, only to leave dead bodies behind and their spirits unbroken, romantic souls of schoolgirls in love, abandoned mothers and forgotten wives. This Top of the World is inhabited only by souls like these, wavering about the corridors; with a bit of luck you may encounter Pushkin himself and then quickly jot down a few rhymed lines, definitely rhymed for acquaintances create miracles and Muses may just decide to pay us a visit while bending over hard surfaces of simply ornate tables where Consecrated Books are read. This is what the Top of the World Known to Me is like.

And exactly here, in the heavens devoted to the worshippers of wisdom and knowledge, in Moscow State Library, was where an unprecedented duel was to take place. A duel of scientific refutation of bad jokes to be finished, as my friend Ivan Ivanovich fervently lamented over the whole morning, not by persecution to a labour camp, then to Siberia, for this was an outdated method not efficient enough anymore, but in argumented scientific, historical facts which cannot be contested and which were installed into the heads of the whole kind of supporters of true wisdom by proving that Russian history is an unequalled treasury of famous and ever-won battles and telling bad jokes is completely improper. Ivan Ivanovich’s two-room flat, just like those of other intellectuals who lived in this disproportionally big city that spread out in circles and expanded onto the steppe, was filled and packed with books from top to bottom. In Soviet Russia books were very cheap and everybody could have them, or rather buy them, although perestroika was slowly bringing higher prices of books through its liberation cries. Ivan Ivanovich would rather skip a decent meal than fail to buy the most recent edition of historical studies or alike that were already piling up in bookshops and sprouting out like mushrooms in the rainy season in these times of new enlightenment and new horizons of Russian history.

“I shall show that Mr Nobody, that scoundrel, that villain what is and what will always be the power of Russian history and its development!”, murmured Ivan Ivanovich while he spent the whole morning gathering all available evidence that would prove his theory. I did not dare to utter a word while he was having his monologue; I only secretly watched his rage pulsing in the arteries on his neck, and how all the furies of the world were taking possession of him - in a play at the ITD Theatre one of them took main character’s life as they possessed and persecuted him with the idea of an inevitable victory by Athena and her citizens in the war against the foes. The obsessed main character was defeated by the stronger and more powerful anti-hero who was on the other hand haunted by blasphemous and malign idea of inevitable ruin of Athena and a birth of a brand new world. The play, whose name and author I could not remember, came to my mind while I was watching Ivan Ivanovich pacing all over his flat and getting more and more agitated, just like the hero of the forgotten play who was obsessed with Furies. Alas, from ancient Athena to perestroika nothing seemed to have changed, with the same furies haunting worshippers and supporters as well as opponents and archenemies of sacred and untouchable ideas. Ideas, ideas – how many heads were lost to ideas, those ephemeral shadows in the minds, pouring out into the reality and then jumping at their enemies’ throats.

But the old clock in the lounge struck four in the afternoon in a low tone, and Ivan Ivanovich rushed out to the nearest underground stop to catch the bus, and then further to the duel with foul Simon Simonovich, to settle, once and for all, the overall superiority of the Russian development in history throughout the centuries until the ultimate freedom. I wished obsessed Ivan Ivanovich all the luck in his duel and not to be inflicted with deadly wounds of opposing ideas for they are dangerous for the body, soul and spirit. We said our good-byes at the door and he added: “Let the holy war start!”, and furies flashed before my eyes again, in a feverish dance chasing a poor soul susceptible to their influence.

Ivan Ivanovich lived in the quarter where Moscow State University proudly found its place, an arrogant edifice built in a Stalin-like style resembling a temple rather than a university. At the front there was the main building with two wings spreading on the sides – grey structures a little shorter than the pompous main one. At the back there was a large park with fountains and paths while on the left side, if you descended down a mild hill, there ran a lazy river. Simon Simonovich lived at the other end of Moscow. In order to reach Moscow State Library from his home he had to take the second Muscovite ring so that Simon got off the underground train at another stop, the one closer to the Library, whereas Ivan Ivanovich got out at Red Square and had to go all the way round it and wait for ages at the streetlights before a river of cars passed by – cars kept flooding the street, coming from every direction. He had to cross the street and reach the foot of the grand steps leading into the womb of the library. This is how these friends happened to have seen each other at a long distance much sooner than they reached the library. Ivan Ivanovich paced faster and rushed towards his foe and hated ideological opponent, while Simon Simonovich kept walking casually as if he was bored.

One was almost running, the other one dragged slowly down the long street, whereas Moscow State Library proudly raised towards the very sky and threatened, if not dutifully obey, to bring its end with cosmic flights into the unknown expanses of the universe. Until recently friends, now archenemies, Ivan Ivanovich and Simon Simonovich finally met in front of the library and stood face to face.

“Does the duel start?”, Simon Simonovich asked in a casual, careless voice.

“Of course, in the reading room with the books by Russian emigrants”, replied Ivan Ivanovich passionately. “Nobody will disturb us there while fighting this holy duel. I hope you at least know where the room is”, added Ivan Ivanovich tartly.

“Of course I do, at the very top, almost in the attic”, answered Simon Simonovich in a hollow voice. “Russian history was best described by Russian emigrants”, Simon Simonovich continued bitingly.

Ivan Ivanovich decided to ignore the remark and finally started climbing up Moscow Library grandiose steps. “Sharp at five”, he told his archenemy Simon who slowly walked behind.

When they entered a large lobby of State Library, once close friends, now foes fighting to the last drop of blood, Ivan Ivanovich and Simon Simonovich set out in different directions. Simon Simonovich casually turned right, down the stairs and through the maze – he came to the small restaurant, bought some instant coffee for twenty kopecks and poured some hot water from the dirty basin. He withdrew into the corner and watched the reading audience visiting the library. It was a colourful lot, comprising mostly of students, but also their professors, then various dodgy characters that might have been resembling spies, but also ordinary people looking for a good book. It was a quarter to five, and Simon Simonovich decided to finish his coffee and then start up towards the loft with consecrated rooms for reading books of Russian emigrants.

Ivan Ivanovich managed to force his way through and, to the overall displeasure of everybody else, he slipped his filled in ticket to an acquaintance of his who was already close to the Great Librarian. Thus he got hold of another evidence on the reign of Catherine the Great he would gloatingly rub Simon Simonovich’s nose with. Five o’clock was about to strike and Ivan Ivanovich rushed up the flight of stairs to the duelling venue.

They found themselves in the consecrated chamber, far from the eyes of unwanted and uninvited witnesses. The room was empty. Glazed bookcases fraught with books of Russian emigrants in foreign languages and Russian translations ran along both sides of the room. Ivan Ivanovich pulled out the book he had just borrowed, while Simon Simonovich pulled out a leather-bound book he had to show the warden at the entrance controlling the flow of books in and out of the library – he had to convince him the subject treasure was his own and his only, not the property of the State Library.

Ivan Ivanovich dropped his book which fell in front of Simon Simonovich with a loud bang. He in return, standing opposite readers’ desk, threw his leather-bound copy. That was the weapon in the holy duel seemingly not capable of hurting the body as it did in Pushkin’s case, but would wound the spirit and a complex set of ideas in the heads of these promising youths.

“Catherine the Great was one of the enlightened empresses of the Russian empire. During her reign strict laws which regulated the empire were enforced. Catherine the Great was an iron empress, resolute and strict and would not let anyone break the law. Russian empire flourished during her reign”, read Ivan Ivanovich aloud, emphasising each and every word.

“Catherine the Great was irresolute and indulgent, always torn apart between the interests of the Russian empire and her German interests. She subjected Russia to the influence of German empire thus putting the Russian empire to decline. Additionally she was of fickle temperament, inconsistent mood and under the influence of every emissary from other European courts. She was prone to compromising and delaying decision making; she was also a lover of many rulers with whom she thus made agreements”, replied Simon Simonovich reading a chapter from his leather-bound book.

Lies, lies, nothing but lies”, Ivan Ivanovich was enraged.

“The truth reported by Turkish sources”, Simon Simonovich was now losing his temper. “Catherine the Great was unprepared for the war with the Turkish sultan and his superior army – she had brought up such poverty and misery onto Russia she would never be able to gather a single battalion, let alone the whole army. Therefore she invited the Turkish sultan to diplomatic negotiations that lasted the whole night. Witnesses said the sultan left empress’s chambers that night in quite cheerful and good spirits, which was then followed by his calling off his army already prepared for the attack”, read on in a raising voice Simon Simonovich.

“Lies, Turkish propaganda, a secret ideological war against Russia by making up lies”, cried Ivan Ivanovich, reached for the leather-bound book, snatched it out of Simon Simonovich’s hand and threw it into the corner.

“And what do you think Catherine used to convince the sultan diplomatically not to attack Russia?” asked Simon Simonovich furiously while rushing into the corner of the room to pick up his book. “And now you are wondering at Turkish jokes?”, he added bending down to pick up his rather demolished book.

Ivan Ivanovich had enough of it. While Simon Simonovich was bending down on the side of the reading desk closer to him, Ivan Ivanovich stormed at Simon Simonovich. He grabbed his arm, bent it behind Simon’s back and then started kicking him franticly. Simon Simonovich managed somehow to wiggle out of the clinch and punched Ivan Ivanovich hard in the stomach. They curled up in an un-tangleble ball of punches and kickings. In their chaotic fight they reached one of the glazed bookcases and smashed into it – the glass broke with a loud noise and shattered into thousands of pieces with books flying everywhere. Ivan Ivanovich and Simon Simonovich took no notice of the damage but kept on fighting, heavily breathing. They kept pushing each other against the walls, hitting each other with Ivan Ivanovich’s nose already bleeding. The same thing happened with the second bookcase as the two archenemies fiercely smashed into it. And who knows who would got out of it as the winner, who as the defeated if a strict, no-nonsense face of the library manageress had not turned up at the door escorted by wardens.

“Stop it immediately”, shouted the manageress, while a warden ran towards the raging hot youths to separate them. Readers from the nearby rooms came to help and finally they managed to untangle the ball of legs and arms and heads of the two archenemies. The scene, now emerging, was really funny. Ivan Ivanovich’s nose was still bleeding, his coat was torn and hung about in rags and he was standing on one leg while he kept the other one stretched out in front of him. Simon Simonovich’s hair was a mess, he held his hands on his stomach, while there was a round red bruise on his face. Other readers came running and stared at the two humiliated enemies now turning into a laughing stock having failed their holy target – to bring some light about the real truth on the history of Russia. They had no idea they would become history themselves by being exiled from Moscow State Library.

The manageress firmly pointed her finger for the two rebel to leave the demolished room and ordered: “Straight to my room!” The two youths lowered their heads and staring at the floor they went past people who were curiously watching at them or smiling with a sneer. They all knew what was to become of the two. The manageress was known as strict and unchallenged ruler of the empire called Moscow State Library and the sentence they were about to face was to be in accordance with manageress’s temper. That is what happened. After her interrogation, during which the archenemies defended themselves by silence, a sentenced was passed: they are banned from the library over the period of ten months, they are deprived of their library cards and the manageress promised to notify their faculties on the incident. The damages would be compensated from the youths’ grants, which actually meant they would spend the next ten months as poor as church mice.

The faculty committee passed a decision the youths were banned from attending lectures over the following six months and the incident would be noted in their student registry books.

After the talk with the manageress the two youth, looking in different directions, walked away separate ways towards the underground. In silence they walked along their different ways while trying to remedy the damage on their clothes. Thus ended the duel in Moscow State Library.

Do you remember the joke from the beginning of the story? The joke about the emperor who sent out informants among the commoners to find out if he was to his subjects’ liking or disliking? Well, jokes are not told without a reason for when a disorder takes place in Moscow State Library, the manageress, just like the emperor in the joke tightens up the reins and enforces taxes in the form of deducting grants. But what is going to happen if people silence up and cease telling jokes?