The Odessan Tale
“As a poet of the historic consciousness I suppose I am bound to see landscape as a field dominated by the human wish – tortured into farms and hamlets, ploughed into cities. A landscape scribbled with the signature of men and epochs”
Luckilly the weather was fine. As for the autumn. The degree of warmth was +11, the wind only 5m/s, a breeze, so liked by every traveller and tourist of this city. Odessa is famous for its more sub-tropical than continental climate, and therefore the high humidity was an indivisible attribute of the weather. What’s strange is that even in autumn the high humidity didn’t surrender, agonizingly struggling for its positions. This year the humidity was weak: in September nothing showed the symptoms of a jolly summer anymore. Except the high temperature.
Odessa is a planned city (while most of the towns in this region are not), but modern development has touched the work of planners, simply destroyed it. The trees planted to be an obstacle for the wind (in whatever direction it was blowing); the rows of trees were protecting the walkers along the Alley of Health.
The Alley of Health received this communist name in 60s, when it was turned into a jogging place; before that it’d been a promenade for those who lived in villas along the French Boulevard (the name says a lot), and who were heading to Arcadia. So the noblest place, with gardens around it, with the look upon the gulf and sea and called Lanjeron’s Boulevard has been turned into a place for dog-walkers.
Arcadia, another noble place, is situated in the middle of the coast around the Odessan gulf. It was meant to be the centre of entertainment of all sorts for aristocracy, parodying St. Petersburg’s people. But it was changed, again, by the communists. After the “red-star” government, Odessa gains a reputation of a dirty port city, full of Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and plus demolished by a pneumonic plague. And so the parody on Russian nobility changes into a city of Jewish merchants.
Luckily nowadays it has changed. Odessa is a flexible city (a quality earned from Jews and Armenians), and whatever government it has had people will still live their own life, changing only because of the development of technology. It becomes quicker, rushful, of course meaningless rush! And the humour… The famous Odessan humour has disappeared in this money-time-rush. Only occasionally one may meet a person who, answering the question “Where’s Lenin’s street?” will reply with a question “Are you a communist? I’m glad that there’s no more this dirty street, where you and your comrades can pray for this devil etc”. And finally you could get a statement that it was renamed into Reshilyevskaya.
But this jokingly friendly atmosphere is now gone too. It is odd, that the past here has more influence on people than the present. And the heroes of this story are from the social class which is separated from modern life by the various layers of the society. Which is a good thing, I suppose.
The City Garden is a place of passage. To get wherever you want you have to cross it. What surprises is that the Garden was a part of the cultural events, where there were fountains, a place for an orchestra for the evenings… Now there were only ruins of culture: painters, mostly amateurs, were trying to sell printed paintings of the Odessan sights to a few tourists. A place for the musicians was now occupied by the drunken students with an old guitar, singing rock songs by Zoy. The fountains contained some green unrecognizable liquid.
Next to the group of painters, excitingly discussing a new political event, there was a young man who was leaning on the frame of a big painting. He looked tired, had his eyes closed. His messy dark hair was long enough to cover all his face. He was dressed in a long dark coat, with his collar put straight up. The object he was sitting on was a small transportable chair. It seemed that he was sleeping. His balanced breathing suggested it. But then he showed all qualities of the clear consciousness, when a woman of thirty or so ages came closer to his painting.
‘How much?’ she asked, with a rational tone of a typical business woman.
The painter wouldn’t open his eyes or move. The calming effect of the shining warm sun, the water in the fountain made him reply without bothering himself with opening eyes.
‘If I only knew…’ he said lazily.
‘Okay, what’s the title of it?’ the lady definitely was in a hurry. As usual.
‘It has none. Free choice’ the same sleepy voice, the same indifferent intonation.
‘Look, if you want to sell it it’s your best chance. One hundred and a half, all right?’ she opened her purse.
‘That’d do’ but he wouldn’t move. She gave money to him. Before his hand or mind accepted it, he’d looked at her with a valuing glance.
It seemed that nothing interested him in her black suit and he, with a deep sigh, (partly with a sigh of a relief), stood up and gave the painting he had been leaning on to her.
‘Would you not help?’ For her it was all-included price of one hundred and fifty grivnas.
‘No. I’ve got to go’ he said and moved away, forgetting his transportable chair, with his hands in the pockets of his long coat…
The place he went to was a long way away. But the painter had demonstrated energy and a winding machine which seemed to drive him. He would not look at the city, at the buildings until he got to where he was aiming to for. He was afraid of spoiling his mood by a glance at the poetically ugly sights. He had crossed a school and unfortunately it was the end of a school day, therefore many students were out of the building. The artist saw kids, children, adolescents… He saw the young girls, in their closely-fitting school skirts, short enough to show the attractive knees; with their vulgar blouses, with the first buttons opened… He stood there, watching hungrily… The school was so close to the City Garden that he could even hear the splashes of the fountain. He was angry, with a feeling of a great loss. He had convinced himself that he didn’t need the scholastic relations and his youth had gone irrevocably… but these smiles on the pretty faces would irritate him now.
He was there, in his clothes, too warm for this summery weather, so isolated from them, so distantly away… He went away, speeding himself up. He was heading to his place, his place…
The place the artist was now in had many leaves on the ground, fallen from the numerous trees on the both sides along the road. On the right there was a sea… This wonderfully dirty sea. The visible part of it from here was fortunately deserted; it hadn’t been colonized by land developers yet. So it was almost empty, with only a few people swimming and a few taking sunbathes.
The place was lifted up enough to allow one to see the coast from the height of fifty meters. Basically it follows the coast’s curves along the whole way down to Arcadia.
Yes, it was the Alley of Health, Lanjeron’s Boulevard. The beach down there was also called Lanjeron’s. The artist was quickly walking along the road, looking at the sea. Soon he saw a figure, leaning on the hand-rails. He was dressed not as the artist. His creamy shorts and t-shirt were suitable enough. He wore glasses, sun-glasses of course.
The artist would stop next to him. Also lean on the hand-rails.
The sight was beautiful – here the beach was not seen, only the brilliantine shining of the Black Sea’s brim. The hand-rail was close to the edge, so the place they were standing at was a bit further than the road.
‘You always end up here’ said the man with a sigh.
The artist didn’t reply. He was staring at the sea, the patches of sunlight, reflected and multiplied by the sea’s cover.
‘I can’t help myself coming here’.
‘Why don’t you try to sell a normal picture to a normal client?’ the man asked again, also not turning his eyes away from the fascinating layer of water.
‘Because I don’t have traditional paintings’ the artist was not tired anymore. More depressed.
‘No. Because you’re a liar’.
‘If I lie… it’s a sin?’
‘If you lie here – no. If you lie in your painting – no. If you lie to yourself about your painting… Yes’.
‘I can’t have a painting without a lie. Because it’s a lie. I wouldn’t be my painting’.
‘Because you have no images’.
‘Because I can’t find them’.
‘That’s why you paint abstracts’ the man smiled ‘Malevitch believed that when one paints in abstracts he’s got no images or he’s got a lot of them. I do agree. And don’t blame the surrounding for it, please; don’t be disappointingly adolescent in this’.
‘But it’s true. I’ve nothing to adore, nothing to look at’ the artist bowed his head.
‘Jesus, you’re far more adolescent than you think you are. Look at this sea…’
‘Oh, stop it immediately!’ the artist grinned ‘Don’t be a patronizing old artist who tells me to paint an Odessan sea coast’.
‘Is selfishness a sin?’
‘If it’s not proved… Snobbism can’t be proved. Especially in your case’.
‘Why do I come here?’ the artist turned around ‘I meet you here every day, when I come here to watch the sea’
‘No!’ the old man laughed ‘It’s me who meets you here every day, when I come here to watch the sea’.
The artist was muted. He now watched the other side of the road, with its trees. The man continued ‘If you stop coming here you will never stop being a sinner’.
‘You’re the only one who reminds me about my sins’ the artist murmured.
‘That’s why you meet me. And I never go away’.
‘From here?’ he grinned.
‘From you’ the man was silent for one moment ‘You have to haunt the images. Or otherwise even such an old devil like me will never help you stop lying. Start writing your paintings, Roman. Start writing’ and the man showed no more interest in the conversation. He turned to the sea again and was silent. Roman had to accept the guidance and to leave.
He walked away, in the direction of Arcadia. Again, his hands in the pockets of his long coat, his head bowed.
The man looked at him. His old hand rose to take off his glasses.
‘Start looking around, Roman’ he murmured to himself.
The Alley continued, bringing Roman further away from the centre and closer to Arcadia. For the majority of rich Odessan people Arcadia was a Mecca of life, of leisure. But Arcadia was accepting its visitors at night, when the lightened by the discos lights coast (lightened by the discos lights) was playing a role of a beacon; the Voronzovsky’s beacon definitely and unarguably was loosing its importance and becoming a needless sight for tourist in the night, when its red and yellow lights looked miserably cheap comparing to the multicolored lights from the biggest of Ukrainian night clubs.
But that was when the darkness took its law-proved position and the light day had to move away awkwardly clutching the sun with itself. While being so energetic during the night Arcadia was completely different in the light of day. It was like a woman in her late forties coughing and suffering from rheumatisms after a night spent in the night club smoking and dancing among the young schoolgirls, pretending to be one of them.
And it was yet an alive being. She, Arcadia, was breathing through the catacombs in her shore, inhaling the healing water of the Black Sea, restoring her powers after the night. She was resting on the shore, allowing the sea waters to take some part of her flesh every year. Roman was wandering along these asphalted routes and wondered how leaves could have covered them in such whimsical tracery. They were covering the road on the both sides, with an odd pattern of red and yellow samples. The tiny stripe of very old asphalt was in the middle.
It was quiet; a sound of surf wasn’t disturbing. The wind was louder; it played with the leaves on the ground, mixing them up again. Some leaves were still on the trees: slim birches, maples and acacias had some leaves left on. They were dry and produced the sound of shuffling cards, which was a usual part of the scenery.
Roman had a choice: the route was forking, one way right downwards, one left, upwards. There were stairs only on the way down; the way up was shown only by trampled down ground. The way down was obviously leading to the sea, to the beach with the huge stones. He could see it through the birches, and it all looked fascinating. A mix of two types of nature’s manifestations, them coping with each other in this clear sight. He had to turn to compare the allure of the other one. It was this wild route to the other world, the world of industrialization. It was quiet though, nothing showed that there was a world of developed life in a few hundred meters; still he knew it, he was sure. But the way looked so wild, so crude that he stepped on it without looking back or to his left. He had just chosen the path on his right.
He would not look anywhere else except from the ground during his walk. And what he could see there was only the ground, the banal ground with leaves which weren’t so oddly patterned as on the asphalt.
He hadn’t walked a few dozen meters when he saw a figure in some distance. Not really saw. He heard her footsteps. It made him raise his head.
The figure was a female, this he could recognize even from a further distance. She was moving fast, balancing on the border of running and walking. Her dark hair came uncurling on the wind; same as her black raincoat.
He was surprised and shocked at this point. He wasn’t expecting to see any alive creature here. She was alive. More than that. She was moving, moving, and approaching the sea and him, Roman.
He had no more time to think, he saw her face clearly now. Her big eyes were looking up, giving her a chance stumble over. She seemed not to care about that. She was running from some invisible threat for Roman.
He’d noticed she was running to him. His hands automatically accepted her trembling body, her head laid on his chest. He was shocked now more than he had been before. But her flesh in his hands, her shivering breath, and her hands around him made him pat her. When his hand was patting her back, she would raise her head and looked at him with eyes in tears; her long black hair became entangled, giving her innocent look of a scared tender creature. This moment when she was looking at him and he at her eyes was incredibly long and strange. She suddenly looked back and became scared again. She looked again at him briefly and began to run away in a great hurry. Roman rapidly looked around at her and tried to stop her body moving away. But how could he preserve her? He didn’t even know why did she was running away! His hand moved towards her body, which had nearly disappeared.
And she was gone.
The wind rose greater. It was becoming cold. He had regained his consciousness again by breathing in the breezy air from the sea. He still was watching the direction she had gone and it was the sight with a birch and sea. Did Roman see it? I suppose not, because all his conscious part of the mind was thinking of the mysterious figure he’d seen.
Roman walked again, still looking at the birch with the sea. After some steps he turned and continued his walk towards the city.
He hadn’t got rid of a hallucination yet he’d just seen when he saw few silhouettes. They were producing annoying sounds of laughter. They were typical representatives of the modern Odessan teenagers. They were clutching some bottles of a cheap beer and were crunching crisps.
Roman had to pass through them, because otherwise he would show his weakness and nothingness comparing to them by having a turn around them. He had to go through them, exactly through; his principles would not let him to do otherwise.
His muscle were strained, he was unconsciously preparing for a conflict. But they, laughing, passed by, giving him a space to go through. He didn’t believe it; that they were that ordinary. And he was ordinary that they’d give him to go.
And he was right.
‘Where did she run?’ asked one of them, swallowing his crisps.
Roman looked back, looked at their backs in dark jackets and they hair cut off bold. That was why she’d run away, that’s from whom she’d run away. For a few moments he watched the whole nation and generation in this moving away company. Their backs were bended down, showing an effect of boxing habit. The voices from them did not say much; their ugly laughter did not even contrast with trees around, it was unfair to nature. Roman could not bear it, Roman was hysterical at this point, and he allowed his hysteria to take over his consciousness.
He had started to move, as fast as he could but not to seem running away, in a direction of his flat, his home, from the sight with the birch…
It was another day now; the sun was shining even brighter. The water in the fountain was running as usual and the splashes from it were refreshing those who were sitting on the bench next to it. There were some schoolgirls passing through, in their white blouses… Next to the fountain was a cinema which was attracting people to buy popcorn, to go inside and watch a film without even looking at the screen. It was air-conditioned, it was dark there. For those people who lived their real life after the darkness had entered the city from the North.
It was odd how the sunset was affecting the city. The shadows were coming from the North, and the last still lightened up part of the city was a shore. Derebasovskaya street and the City Garden were darkened after the rest of the city, because it was meant to be so – the city planners were extraordinary effortful in building and planning the city: you can get to the coast from any street; you could see the sea from the highest point of Derebasovskaya.
Now it was hot. Even hotter than yesterday. Roman had to take off some clothes. But his coat remained on his body. He had had his hair tied up in the pony tail, so one could see his face. He had massive features with big green eyes, beautiful in some way, when he was looking up.
Under his coat he had only a white vest with jeans. His portable chair had been standing there since yesterday and now he was sitting on it, his head on his hands. A painting was put on his left. Roman occasionally glanced at it.
He could see a huge spot of red on it, mixed up with some yellow. Roman turned his face away from it. He began to watch the scenery. His position was facing the fountain, though in some distance away from it. He was nearer to the arbour (the place for the orchestra). On his left there were hawker’s trays, with souvenirs on them. Ugly grannies were sitting there and and, chewing sunflower seed (which were among their assortment, chatting with each other.
One of them addressed to Roman.
‘Roma, my boy, what’s wrong with you today?’
He moved his head with a sigh.
‘Nothing, Maria Ivanovna, nothing special’
‘Oh, your artist’s creative mood, I see! Sorry, sorry, I won’t trouble you!’ She apologetically turned away, murmuring to her friend that dear Roman is now in his writer’s ennui. With her own old words of course.
They liked Roman. He was not like other artists who were doing nothing but drinking beer and spitting on the ground. They often took some home-made food for him, ‘cause he was always so lonely sitting there selling his ‘clever’ paintings. They didn’t know it was abstractionism, they had heard the word once from him but in one second they had forgotten it and thus they only knew he was an extraordinary clever artist who was painting in some modern style.
He could hear the song from the arbour where some rockers were playing an old song.
‘We live in a City under the Grace
Of the Star called Sun.
The only Menace
Come from the threatening Night’
Roman would close his eyes in order to follow the tune. He was accepting the grace of the Sun by this. But he was disturbed someone’s voice.
‘How much?’ it was asking.
It was a man, in a traveler’s suite. He was in his thirties, with a bag in his hand.
‘I don’t know. You decide’ said Roman.
‘I like it. I like the yellow here’ the man stared at the painting ‘I’ll give you one hundred. Agreed?’ he opened his purse with in an offering manner.
‘Tell me the title’ said Roman.
‘Give me the title for it before you buy’.
‘Um… You’re an impudent young man’ he said, though with a smile ‘I will call it…’ he seized the painting with a stare ‘”She”. You like it?’ he turned his head friendly to Roman.
‘”She?” Why “She”..?’ Roman asked surprisingly staring at the painting. He got up and stood next to the man. ‘You see “Her” in it?’
‘I do, yes, indeed. May I take it then?’
Roman helped him to move in a bit. It was smaller than his previous one. He took the money and they thanked each other. Roman pensively moved towards the school.
‘Where are you going?’ asked Masha.
She was waiting for her friends to turn up; they were planning to visit the cinema.
‘Umm, I’m bored. Where are they? Let’s go, they’ll find us’ Nastya replied to her friend. She was really bored; to entertain herself she was shifting from one foot to another. Her legs were slim, and she didn’t hesitate to show it by wearing a very short skirt. Her blouse was unbuttoned, not completely though: it gave the effect of an innocent puritan girl, who was just hot. Though for boys passing her by her seemed a big-breasted school whore, whilst she’d never experienced a sexual intercourse… yet.
‘Call them!’ she said to Masha.
Masha, who looked pretty much the same, except that she wasn’t so handsome, picked up a modern mobile phone with a small Teddy-bear on it. Their friends were on detention for painting the school toilet.
‘Idiots’ commented Nastya.
They were hot; they were there alone, while everyone was leaving. They said farewell to every mate, sadly smiling. They had to do something with it.
‘Let’s go to the fountain. At least some water’.
The warmth was delusory, it wasn’t that warm: the sun was shining, creating an atmosphere of the summer. But the wind was cold and was playing a role of one of the autumn’s soldiers.
They crossed the road with an excitement, heading the fountain and the City Park. On its edge a man collided with them, nearly knocking down Nastya. He looked as if he was in a hurry and briefly apologized. He was bearing something rectangular and wrapped in paper with him.
Masha wouldn’t let him go away so easily.
‘Hey you!’ she shouted at him.
The man thought it wasn’t for him, because he didn’t stop or turn.
‘Hey, I’m asking you!’ Masha did a step further.
He turned. He was annoyed that someone had stopped him.
‘Yes? Sorry once more’ he was going to go away again, but Masha hold his sleeve.
‘You’ve just tried to kill my friend!’ she said in a coquette way ‘So… You’ve to pay us back’ she smiled at last, and the man understood he wasn’t in a trouble and nothing threatened him. They were only two bored teens with nothing to do.
‘You mean?’ the man smiled back.
‘For example… Ice cream, would that do?’ Masha smiled and beckoned him to go with them to a tray with ice cream.
He went with them, smiling and apologizing once more. He bought them an ice cream and now was watching them eating it. The scene was erotic as for him; it’d recalled for some scenes from Nabokov.
‘What do you have there?’ Masha asked, licking the vanilla ice cream.
‘Oh, a painting. I’ve just bought it’ he unwrapped it and showed it to them.
Masha stared at the painting and said:
The man smiled back and to please her, said:
‘I know. It suits my décor in the new flat’.
Roman wanted to get to his place as soon as possible. His feeling of happiness and satisfaction was drawing him there. On the ground were the same leaves, in their pattern of red and yellow. Roman was stirring them with his feet, unconsciously playing with them.
The figure was there, as usual, stabled, motionlessly watching the sea. He turned to Roman and smiled. He could see his eyes smiling too even through his black glasses. He was wearing the same clothes, though the colour was different this time – brighter. Or it seemed so to Roman.
‘Ah, Roman’ he smiled again.
‘You can’t believe it! I’ve got a title from my customer and it was exactly the one I’d been thinking of!
Roman leaned in excitement on the hand-rail.
‘Oh Roman, don’t be ridiculous! Calm down. He might have simply guessed’ he smiled at Roman as at an excited schoolboy with a good mark. ‘Thus the painting was rubbish. Again, Roman’.
‘You didn’t even see it!’ Roman stared at him in amusement.
‘Do I need to?’ the man smiled wryly ‘I see it now in you. Knowing you I can predict the state it was painted in. It had a feminine aspect, didn’t it?’
Roman’s smile had vanished, as had his excitement and happiness. He was facing the sea again, with a melancholy look, taken from the autumn.
‘Did you see her?’ he asked the man.
‘Whom?’ the man fixed his glasses more tightly.
‘A girl. She must have passed here’ Roman had gone subdued.
‘She might have gone to the coast. No. I didn’t see her’. He murmured.
Roman hesitated, and then suddenly looked at the man’s legs.
‘Do you change costume sometimes?’ Roman’s impudent remark didn’t upset the man.
‘When it gets colder, yes. You change it as it gets warmer roman. You’ll end up with a heat-shock’.
Roman did not think long for to answer.
‘It’s all a fake’.
The man inclined his head to encourage Roman to go on.
‘What’s going on? It’s all a fake. It’s not real. The sun shines like an electric lamp, with no heat coming from it. The wind blows aimlessly. The sun sits lazily by’.
‘It would become me, same as…’ the man started but then suddenly stopped. Roman paid no attention to this remark. ‘So what do you want?’
‘From what?’ Roman was half-confused, half-annoyed.
‘From nature. You blame the sun for being not real enough for you. Why is it so? Because you can’t even paint it?’
‘What?’ now he was simply annoyed with the man’s mentoring tone.
‘What “what”?’ the man too was annoyed with his recalcitrant student ‘Can you paint the sun properly? No. Nor can you paint the wind, nor sound. Sin is light, light is light. No abstraction can help you with that. You need to have a certain thing, an object – light! Sound! Not daubed paintings, the products of the unconscious movements of your brush!’ he didn’t move; he was satisfied with his own patience.
‘And who then is a snob and retrograde?’ Roman grinned. He’d calmed down.
‘And who then is a sinner?’
Roman had to mute himself.
‘When will I stop lying?’ he cried and hit the hand-rail.
‘When you stop being a sinner’.
‘But I’m a sinner because I lie’.
‘You’re a sinner because you are’ he turned his back on Roman ‘and now – clear off. You’re wasting nature’s spirit on irritation’.
Roman moved away, shifting the leaves around him away in different directions, angrily ruining the pattern.
The man took off his glasses.
‘Yellow with red daubing! And he calls it a painting… phew!’
There was nothing interesting for her in this walk, but she couldn’t decline an invitation from her friends. Somehow they had decided not to go to the cinema, but to walking. Thus she ended up wandering around Arcadia and its big stone moorings. She was among her friends, watching the dark blue waters and her schoolmates scribbling their names on the mooring. She couldn’t say that she didn’t like what they were doing, but she now felt adolescently depressed; she was not like the others. Two days ago she would have happily helped them to destroy the look of the mooring by scrawling ‘Sasha+Anna=Love’ or other scratches which didn’t distinguish themselves from a hundred other similar signs on the mooring’s flesh.
But she was different. Maybe because her white school blouse was not unbuttoned (a cold autumnal breeze was blowing) or because her hair was dyed less than others, - she didn’t know. When she looked at the company of boys and girls who were partly guilt of her depression, because they made her hang around the Schevtchenko’s park and Lanjeouron’s alley which made everyone depressed: one couldn’t escape it without melancholia.
It all led to Arcadia which seemed unusual to them during the day. They had never seen it in day light, only in illumination of advertisement billboards and disco’s lamps.
Thus she was bored; the happy laughter of her friends melded in the sound of the shore. She moved away, heading the beach with its yellow sand and a thin stripe of pebbles. The moorage ended; she stepped on the sand, putting her shoes off. Glancing back at friend, who didn’t even notice her disappearance, she went along the beach. Soon her feet were cold; she felt the terrible coldness of the water: Hollywood romanticism was unbearably cold; reality touched with icy fingers. She kept walking on the sand and pebbles without stepping in the water.
Roman found himself on the sand, sitting and watching the sea. He had just become conscious of what he was doing: before, when he had chosen the turn with a birch and the sea instead of his previous choice with trees and the path which led to the city, he was conscious only of the fact he was unconscious.
The old Devil had made him angry, though angry only with himself and the absence in him of any poetic feeling for the surroundings. Thus he was there, watching the sea, hopelessly trying to see something in it.
His look suddenly fixed on something darker that everything else in the water. Roman stood up in amusement to find out what it was. He moved closer; the waves had brought it on the sand and left it there. He picked it up, a dark long coat.
It was heavy, impregnated with water, as if someone was still present in it. Roman had a feeling that he’d already touched this fabric; he’d already felt this material. His hands had recognized it. He had already hugged the person in it, though now there was only water and illusion.
‘Hi’ someone said behind Roman.
He turned, surprised by the presence of someone else here, apart from himself and his hallucinations.
‘Hi’ he replied, looking at this apparition. She was young enough to be a school student. Her hair was partially dyed in black colour; it was long enough to fall on the middle of her back. Her wry smile made her face almost pretty. Without thinking Roman asked ‘Is it yours?’
The answer was obvious: she had already had one on herself. She laughed, making the atmosphere more familiar and calmer between them.
‘No. I’m Nastya’ she said, stretching her hand to him.
He took it, softly shaking, forcing a smile out of himself.
‘Roman’. The dialogue had reached a deadlock for him, though Nastya was very keen on continuing.
‘Where did you find it? It’s all wet’ she said, pulling a face.
‘Here’ Roman said, pointing at the sea.
‘Here?’ she looked behind his shoulder at the water ‘Strange. Where are you going now?’
‘You mean you want to accompany me?’ he hesitated, glancing at the coat in his hands.
‘No’, she smiled ‘You mean like accompanying me’.
He strained one last look at the water, and with a sigh moved with Nastya towards the steps which led to the Alley of Health. He clutched the coat with him. To evolve the dialogue he asked what was she doing here. She pointed at a company of people on the moorage. They were her friends. Stupid teens who were writing something on the moorage. She started to complain about them; told him about her depression. Roman looked at her with sympathy, though his look was more parental than friend-like. He really tried to like her; he even appreciated his own effort.
They walked along the Alley of Health, distancing from Arcadia and going up the hill. The conversation was unconscious for him: he replied with short phrases to her long and emotional talk. The wind was blowing, it was cold. The coat in his hands had become lighter.
‘So you’re a painter, right? Oh, today I’ve seen a man who had a painting with him. You know, such yellow and red spots and dots, he called it... uhm…abstractions, right?’
‘Right’ murmured Roman.
‘So, I really don’t get it. Maybe you will explain? It was like a…’ And she began a description of Roman’s painting.
Now he had abandoned all his effort to like her, he was looking for an excuse to go.
As she was talking, his look wandered around. Anything that could entertain him would do. He had even started to get inspired with everything around him!
His look suddenly fixed on a silhouette drawing nearer. Roman found it fascinating to watch, how a wonderful feminine constitution was darkened by the distance. Nastya was still talking about an enigmatic abstractionism. Roman stared at the approaching woman.
She came nearer; Roman could not do anything to stop or to react somehow. She was the same girl who a day ago was in his hands, a frightened shivering creature. Her coat was in his hands now. She passed by, very slowly, looking at him with her huge beautiful eyes which were glittering in the already fallen twilights.
She without a coat, too lightly dressed for this weather. Her body was moving away; Roman turned to see her, but he didn’t stop. He couldn’t.
A telephone call of Nastya awakened him from his dreamy condition.
‘Yes?’ she replied. A silence ‘yes, I’m coming. I’ll be right there’ she put it down ‘Roman, I’ve got to go’. She stood, waiting for his reaction. Roman was silent. ‘May we meet tomorrow? My friend has just called’.
‘Yes, I’ve just been called too’ he said, staring in nothingness of the murk.
‘So tomorrow? Here?’
‘Good. See you’.
He walked quickly, conscious only of the fact he was glad to get rid of Nastya. He had been called for.
After a few moments as he had left Nastya, the weight of the coat attracted his attention. Roman looked around, recognizing the place with a hand-rail where he usually met his teacher.
The sunset mysteriously attracted Roman to lean on the hand-rail, as he did several hours ago. But now he was alone, omitting the presence of the coat of course.
His eyes glanced at the surface of the water of the sea. Orange-red rays of the sun, being reflected from the brim made some new colours to emerge. A glittering of lines, spots, with no clear borders of light on the water, did not allow one to stare for long; it seemed that the blinding darkness of the water uttered those lights signals from the sun, talking to Roman, inviting him to be a witness of their everyday ritual. The day was ebbing off; leaving these adepts to dance and to mourn. Everyone gained that melancholic mood from the light spots. The waters were dark; a darkness which had emerged from the deepest layers of the sea did indeed look fascinating, especially when the signals would appear and go abruptly.
Though even these burial rituals had an end, and Roman had watched them to their end. Following the nautical performance the wind here played a role of an orchestra for this natural theater. Its best instrument was leaves – the soft sound of them rubbing and scratching the asphalt.
All music had been muted, every sound silenced. Only the shore, slow and lazy, produced a sound similar to the one of the audience leaving the theater.
It was dark and quiet. Roman looked around once more, but could see nothing. This place, native for him, had altered in the darkness.
His first deed was to put the coat on the tree next to the hand-rail. The coat on the branches of the acacia looked even more alive and real, enriched by the feminine spirit.
Suddenly it was all demolished by a rude sound of a daft American song. A silver German car moved towards Roman, with a company of half-naked teens in it. The care flashed past him and disappeared, dragging the song away, driving through the strip banned to cars.
Was it his imagination, or did he really see Nastya in that car?
A rectangular frame was wrapped in the newspaper. The material was covering a painting. It was being clutched by a hurrying Roman to be appraised by a man leaning on the hand-rails on the Lanjeron’s coast.
The weather was soothing: light warm wind; temperature high enough to make Roman take off his coat.
As he had reached the point, when the road was curling, where the acacia was giving a shadow for the long piece of metal to lean on, his eyes noticed that something was missing from the landscape.
The man was not there, it was clear. It was the first time that Roman had not seen him there, in his dark sun-glasses, in his light-brown summer costume.
Somehow his absence that day made Roman to understand that he would never appear again.
Roman slowly moved closer; he had forsaken the painting, and it fell on the ground.
A few leaves were being taken away from the trees around by the wind, some of them touched Roman on their way along the road; scratched his back with tenderness. Today he had left nothing for the wind to play with in his costume; - he had taken off the coat. His arm stretched out to pick up a pair of dark glasses left on the hand-rail.
His next unconscious movement was to put them on, and to enjoy and learn the world as the man would see it all. Artificially darkened sight, the sea, and of course the acacia with no coat on its branches, - everything was there, steady, canny.
‘It’s exhausting, isn’t it?’ something alive had moved closer to him. He had no time to take the glasses off. He smiled in the man’s way: wryly, as being patient to a bad student.
‘Is it so?’
‘Yes. Nothing to rest an eye on’ the girl now was of course in her coat. Her huge eyes were wasting themselves by looking only down.
‘What is your name?’ Roman asked, hoping this question would make her look up.
‘Dasha. And yours?’ she would rise here head.
‘You are a painter, right?’
‘Can one be a painter with such a sight around?’ she said, sadly biting her lips.
‘Start looking around, Dasha…’ Roman fixed his glasses more tightly.
The area, popular among the young Odessan painters was empty now. The nautical concert was soon to be repeated. Nearly all leaves had vanished, asphalt was almost left alone. There was only one uncanny thing on the ground here. A painting. The wind had blown off the paper wrapping. The City Garden. Ordinary day. A fountain caught at the moment when splashes refresh the students having fun with the water; casual businessmen walking past them; poor painters spitting on the old pavement; old women suspiciously looking at them; schoolgirls with their unbuttoned blouses… And in the centre of it, partly blocked by the musician walking past, the portable chair… empty.
March – April 2007
Prague - Odessa
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