ENCOUNTER

dedicated to A.D.

Baluyev went to a covered platform. Rimy, all in frosty patterns, windows were statedly lit up by fires of sliding-by stations and halts, railway-crossings' semaphores and headlights of chunking cars, kicking up their heels in a queue. That time, it usually darkened early, and not everybody had managed to reach the destination. Baluyev put his palm to the window, then rubbed it by his thumb and, as somewhen at his childhood, warmed a small, on a short period of time transparent, circle with rough edges. Trying not to breathe on the window, he looked through that tiny viewport, but saw nothing, except for hirsute fir-trees, covered by snow, and impassable snowdrifts. The warmed space was thickening fast, skimming over with a film and then with frosty streaks and, receiving nothing new from already frozen and totally reddened fingers, obstinately came back to its first impenetrable condition. As soon as the frost had its hour, and the window into the world slammed down, there  outside  an invisible unknown station, all on fires, slid by, and one could only hear an alarm bell pealing and a loud-speaker announcing something. Baluyev knew that an hour and a quarter ago, here, the train, where there was her, slid by, brattling in the same way. And that she, if not being asleep, managed to notice from her compartment's window the station's building, and people on the platform, a duty officer in a red forage cap, and a sad sailor in a sailor's cap, a saleswoman of cooled down pies, an invalid on a carriage, and something else, which was not seen. And a captain in baldric and belts at a station restaurant's small table, he, who she, certainly, could not see, having turned to a window in the same way as he was doing now, was gazing after flitting, brightly lit-up windows of cars. The pack of "Kazbek", which dropped out of his overcoat's pocket right in a deep wayside snowdrift, when the captain slipped down on a well-trodden turn on the way to the station, failed in drying out enough, and then  when there was her train  one more cigarette died out just like it did now, while he was still looked at already empty railways following cars, disappeared behind the turn. The carafe was already half empty, and the ashtray, not changed for a long time, was full of crushed stubs.

The train entered a long turn (to the north-west  Baluyev thought), its wheels frequently clattered on junctions, and it appreciably turned to the right. Feeling that he already began to freeze, Baluyev came back to his compartment. His cheerful fellow traveller, who had invited Baluyev to the dining-car with himself, and who, for certain, had found somebody there, was still absent, and Baluyev was glad at it. Her train left her far-off city late at night on the eve, while the Baluyev's train had been on the road no more than seven hours, and already for almost two hours, their trains had been running on the same gauge, and were to arrive the next day in the morning at the two neighboring stations of the same city at the bank of a wide northern river with polyfoil bridges and silent channels, cobbled streets, and yards' wells. She was faster than him in an hour and a quarter. And therefore, everything Baluyev could see now from his compartment's not frozen window, was her: and that forest, hardly seen through the dark, and already invisible fields, small houses in halts, stations and terminals  those ones, which slid by behind the window, and those, rare ones, where the train stopped, all that still had her look, which warmth heated Baluyev, when he went out to a next, totally frozen platform. She was everywhere. It even seemed to Baluyev, or no  he was sure that through trains' smoke and spring greasing's smell, gage, all possible food, canvas covers, freshly shined boots, and all the rest, he clearly felt her smell, which Baluyev could not compare to anything, and could not confuse; he only knew that it made his heart beating more often, and his breath became rough.

His companion was still absent. Baluyev started to bed. Getting asleep, he saw how early in the dark morning the next day she would step on the frozen platform, covered by station smoke's volumes, how she would go on the city's streets, where there would not be him yet, and how she would be alone there, in that city, and the city would be with her, but there would not be Baluyev there, how his train would arrive then, and in the city, there would be two of them, but they would not be together yet, and how, at last, in some sweetly painful hours, they would meet in the prior agreed place

The captain finished smoking and left the table. His train was getting ready to leave soon. He took from a hanger his, with artillery armbands overcoat, forage cap but suddenly, the door opened with noise, and she almost rushed into the hall. Her coat was half opened, strands of her hair were peeping out from under her hat, and she was panting. The hall was not big, and she saw the captain at once. They were standing and looking at each other with the sight, which would at once make everybody understand that only people, who had not seen each other for a long time, but who needed to be together to make their life absolutely well, could look in that way.

Igor Savchenko

Minsk, January 2001

Russian-English translation: Andrej Bursau