"ROME"

…It was not at once that she believed her eyes. But no, she was not mistaken, she just could not be mistaken  it was him… so many years had passed… …other life… …while she had already nearly forgotten his face… …or had not wanted to remember… Their first days, months, then the first year, then three years, and all the same freshness and originality of feelings… …well, well  "my husband"… …she had not managed to get used to it… Then once… in Montreux… he suddenly returned to their room at an untimely hour, in broad daylight, and, neither having let her recollect herself, nor dress up, he almost rushed her out of the room into the corridor and through the service entrance,  on the street, where there was already a car, but not theirs, somebody else's, all things were left, they took money and passports  some different passports for different names, but all of them with their photos… She, being in na?ve ignorance, was shocked, offended to tears, to despair; the world became shaky, and only his hands, his eyes  all the same, just like she had known them before, his close eyes, were holding the world. And the world kept its feet. Then he told her everything. Her heart became flint with pain, when the story was only half told, and she could perceive nothing any longer. They left the car in Lausanne, and reached Geneva by train. There, he shepherded her into another train; now, they were to meet only in a year in Lisbon.

…He appeared neither in a year, nor in two, nor then. She regularly came to the agreed place, but he would not come. Nobody looked for her, or, maybe, they did not touch her, knowing that she knew nothing new anyway… Years passed, her pain blunted, then it hid somewhere absolutely deep inside, so deep that it became natural and habitual like a cup of espresso every morning, then it meant that it was not a pain at all, but just her body's need. She did not marry, and could not even imagine anyone at his place at all, however, his place was never empty. He was with her. The money he left, allowed her to open a fashionable dress shop. She liked the business, obtained a footing in society; regular clients appeared; she was rather known. By and large, everything was alright. She was not needy, on the contrary,  she could afford herself lots of things, and she did it with taste. …Only …she only started to forget his hands and his, so close eyes. It seemed to her that only in her dreams each night, again and again, she could see those eyes and feel the heat of those hands. She could not know whether it was true or whether she only wanted to think so, because since the very first day they parted, she stopped remembering her dreams.

…She took a KLM flight to Amsterdam. She usually preferred Lufthansa, but there her choice was compelled because of better flight connections. Never having neither habit, nor interest to those magazines, which are offered onboard, there, for some reason, being even surprised at herself, she took out from the pocket of her armchair one of them  KLM on Board,  and started to look it through. And thus, mechanically looking through pages, on page seven, she saw him… Judging by a short, in one paragraph, note under it, the picture could be taken in one of five towns: either in Dutch Bredevoort, or in Hay-on-Wye in Wales, and maybe, in French Montolieu, or in Norwegian Fjoerland, or even in Belgium  in Redu. He was standing at a book bazaar among the same trays with books under multi-colored awnings, with a calculator or a wallet in his hands, though, why a calculator?, she thought, what for a calculator?, for certain, it was a wallet. He was standing with his head over books, and was looking at a thick hardbound album, called "Rome". From that far, other life, she had remembered him, dressed in elegant costumes and long coats, with an invariable accurate hairstyle, but here  grizzled disarranged hair, bald half-head, certain beard, moustache, ridiculous baggy jacket, "Pentax" on his neck, a bag over his shoulder, all wrinkled forehead, and a tired look: through and nowhere. He only seemed to be looking at the album… There, he was obviously alone. …She shut the magazine, on the cover  June-August, today  July 21, i.e. the picture was taken more than two months ago… Whole two months ago… For a long time, she had already known that there was only one way to get rid off them, even after those many years. All conceivable variants inevitably led to that way  earlier or later, a man gets tired of hiding. She opened page seven again. …His hopeless look left no doubts that his time had come as well, that he was also tired. Certainly, for those, who had been seeking for him all those years, two months were quite enough to notice that picture and to find where he was, and he needed it… And was it the price of her life, which she had been leading until now? …What had all that been for? Just to suddenly see his posthumous picture in a certain plane? Why did he not find her then in Lisbon? It would have been better if all that had finished then. Anyway. Better then than to live with it now. She did not need that life… How could he leave her, how could he plan their whole lives for both of them? …How could he think that such a choice was the best for her? It meant that he had not known her at all… …had not felt…

…The eight-minute delay at the departure was successful redeemed during the flight, and the arrival was expected to be according to the schedule. The weather forecast was announced. Plus 24C. Today, there was no need in a jacket, she thought.

Igor Savchenko

Minsk, January 2001

Russian-English translation: Andrej Bursau