Book 3. The Space of Love (1998)
Work out your own happiness
When Alexander finished his story, I couldn’t help expressing my animosity toward him.
“I see only too well what you’re up to. So you left the tents there. And the barrels too, eh? Too bad you got away with just some grey hair. She’s a holy person, Anastasia. It was so clear straight off — any normal person who’d seen you would have twigged what was going on, right off the bat. They would have known who was standing in front of them and what they were getting at. And yet she started pouring out her soul to you.” “She was aware of everything,” Alexander observed. “She was aware of why we came and what we wanted of her. She understood. But she was not talking with the dark side of our human selves. She ignored the dark side, communicating only with what was bright in each one’s heart. And that way she changed all of us. After all, I’m an academic. I’ve done a lot of work in psychology.”
“So, another academic, eh? So what good is all your study if your thoughts are so slow to catch up?”
“Well, you see, life often happens to deal out its events to us faster and more accurately than we can handle them. Besides, Anastasia turned out to be... No, I’m afraid to put her into a category, any more than that other experience...”
“What other experience?”
“How can I put it? You know? Those old people from that remote taiga village — well, they’re still coming at us. Together with the frail little girl out in front of them, carrying the thin stick.”
“They’re coming at us, they’re coming at all of us who were there and saw them. I thought that this was happening just with me — as soon as I close my eyes, I see them straight off, and sometimes they appear whenever I do anything which, in their opinion, is probably unwarranted. I thought this was happening just with me — but I’ve been talking with others in the group. Similar things have been happening with the ones who were there.”
“But that’s all just in your minds, in your imagination.” “What’s the difference? We still have to retreat before their advance, even in our minds.”
“What could be so frightening about helpless and unarmed oldsters? What are you afraid of?”
“I really don’t know what there is to be afraid of. Maybe our own... Maybe we’ve overstepped some line of permissiveness?”
“What kind of line would that be? That sort of fantasising can drive one crazy Maybe you just have to think things through as you’re doing them, before it’s too late.”
“Maybe, think things through in time... We all have to think things through.”
‘And where did you get the notion that after her conversation with Anastasia the little girl’s destiny changed, and her mother’s too? And the destiny of the other villagers?”
“I told you, I’m into psychology. As an academic I can say this: Anastasia completely changed Aniuta’s whole internal programme.
‘After being abandoned to the care ofher grandparents, the little girl had been spending her time sitting sick and helpless in a corner of a dirty hut, waiting for her mother to come. They kept assuring her that her Mamochka would come and play with her and bring her presents. They did this, thinking they were doing a good deed by lying. In the meantime
her mother in the city went on a drinking binge to relieve her feeling of hopelessness. The false assurances had condemned the girl to a state of fruitless expectancy
“We too sometimes sit around waiting for a dispensation from above. Someone is supposed to come along and make us happy and change our destiny. Maybe that’s why we act so lethargically or don’t act at all. We don’t reflect on the fact that we already have more than enough, and that maybe we should be greeting the one coming with gifts of our own.
“Anastasia changed destiny and the future with her simplicity and sincerity. Just think, the simplest human words can change destiny.
“I’ve listened to the recording of Anastasia’s conversation with Aniuta many times. I have an idea if anyone else spoke that way to the girl, it would have had the same effect. It doesn’t actually take much to speak the way she did. The main thing is not to lie. One need only have the sincere desire to help. And helping doesn’t just mean sympathising. You have to be free of doctrines of karma, of predestination or, rather, rise above them.
“Of course one can do a lot of talking about karma, the hopelessness of inevitable predestination and what it means for a sick little girl, but Anastasia rose above this sense of inevitability She simply didn’t pay any attention to it. And any other person could do the same. After all, everything was done with words, simple words we use every day. Only they need to be spoken at the right time and in the right place, and in the proper order. It is quite possible that the purity of thought Anastasia talks about causes these words to automatically fall into place in the right sequence, and that is why they are so powerful.”
“Well, Alexander, those are all theories of yours, assumptions. You still have to look at real life and see whether any destinies will change on account of a bunch of words or
not. Anyway, what could possibly change in life for that little girl? Unless some sort of miracle happened.”
‘A miracle has happened. It turns out that all the miracles we need are within ourselves.”
“What kind of miracle happened?”
“Little Aniuta’s whole mind and life got reprogrammed. She broke all the bonds of karma for herself and those around her.”
“What do you mean, ‘broke’? How do you know this?”
“I know it. Some time afterward I went back to the village. I decided to offer Aniuta my radio receiver, since hers was too crackly, and set up an antenna for it on the roof. So I’m walking along to Aniuta’s house and I notice that the boards on the wooden sidewalk have been fixed. Before they were quite decayed, and now all the rotting boards had been replaced with new ones. Wow, I thought, what’s all this renovation going on here? I saw Aniuta’s granddad sitting on the porch, washing his boots in a pail of water. I said hello to him, and explained why I’d come.
“‘Well, fine!’ said the grandfather. ‘Come on in, if you like. Only you’ll have to take off those shoes of yours. You see, we’ve got new rules around the place.’
“I took off my shoes on the porch and accompanied the grandfather into the hut. Everything was simple inside, as you’d expect in a small village, only extremely clean and cozy “‘You see, our granddaughter’s got this new order set up for us,’ the grandfather told me. ‘She worked at it for a long time. She cleaned the floor, and then washed everything spic and span. She was at it from morning ‘til night for over a week, like a wound-up spring. She would have a rest and then start cleaning again. She persuaded me to paint the walls a fresh coat of white.
“And now when I come into the hut with my boots on and leave tracks, right away she gets out a rag and starts cleaning away the tracks. So, I guess, it’s better not to leave any tracks. We don’t have any slippers. Instead of slippers she adapted some old galoshes. Here, you can put these on. Make yourself comfortable.’
“I sat down at the table. It was covered with an old, but clean tablecloth. The cloth was torn in one place, and the tear was patched, as neatly as a child’s hand could make it, with a piece of coloured cloth cut in the shape of a bunny-rabbit. In the middle of the table stood a cut-glass tumbler, out of which corners cut from notepad sheets neatly protruded — instead of serviettes.
‘“I see they’ve started improving your village, too,’ I said to the grandfather. And it looks like the authorities have been paying attention, seeing they fixed the wooden sidewalks.’
‘And he replied:
“‘It’s got nothing to do with the authorities. They don’t pay any attention to us. It’s my granddaughter, Aniuta. She just can’t keep still.’
“‘What do you mean, Aniuta? She’s still a wee one, much too little to repair sidewalks. Those are heavy boards there.’
“‘Heavy boards. Yeah. You see, one day I was about to set out hunting, and I asked a neighbour if she would look in on Aniuta. And Aniuta says to me, “Go on, Grandpa, go on about your business. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything myself. Just let me take a saw to that board that’s standing against the wall in the barn.”
“‘I was surprised, but I thought: why not let the child play, if that’s the way she likes to play So I put the board on the wood-block, handed her a couple of saws and set off to do some hunting. Later my neighbour told me what happened while I was gone.
“Aniuta pulled out the old rotten pieces of board from the sidewalk. She measured the hole with a string and began sawing the board I had given her according to the measurement. The neighbour says she spent half the day sawing the board, but she managed to do it somehow Then she lugged the new board right up to the sidewalk and put it in the place of the rotten one.’
“‘She’s so thin and frail, how on earth could she have lugged such a heavy board?’ I asked.
“‘She found herself a helper. Back a couple of months ago she made friends with an orphaned dog, a Siberian laika. An old lady died who lived at the other end of our village, leaving a large dog. Back at the funeral Aniuta kept stroking him. Then she started taking him something to eat. At first the laika wouldn’t leave his own yard, even though there was nobody left living in the hut. The old lady had been living alone.
“Aniuta fed the dog for several days. He started following the girl around, and now he never leaves her side. Now this old dog helps carry out whatever our granddaughter fancies. So he helped her lug the board over. Aniuta tied a string around one end and started in dragging it herself, when the huge dog grasped hold of the other end with his teeth, and between the two of them they managed to drag it to the sidewalk.
“‘Then Aniuta asked a neighbour lady for some nails, and borrowed my hammer. And here she was trying to nail the board into place with the hammer. But nothing happened. The neighbour saw Aniuta sitting on the sidewalk, trying to hammer in the nail. She hit her hand in the process and blood started oozing out. The dog was sitting right beside her, watching and whimpering.
“‘The neighbour came over, took the hammer and nailed the board in place. The next evening she saw Aniuta and the dog dragging another board over. Which meant there was another hole in the sidewalk to patch up.
“‘The neighbour asked Aniuta if she were going to patch up all the holes this way — couldn’t she think up some other little girl’s thing to do? And my granddaughter replied:
‘““It’s very important, Auntie, for all the sidewalks outside the houses to be new and free from holes. You see, otherwise someone might decide to come visiting, walking along the boards, and there’s holes in them, and that would spoil the visitor’s good mood. And my Mamochka, when she comes, might get upset if she saw such a shoddy sidewalk.”
“‘So the neighbour hammered down the second board for her. And then she raised a hue and cry throughout the village, shouting out to everyone: “Get busy fixing the sidewalks in front of your houses. I’m not going to let a child do drudgery on account of your disorderliness! She’s working her hands to the bone!”
“‘So, you can see, everyone’s fixed up the sidewalk in front of their houses. So they wouldn’t have to hear the neighbour lady rail at them any more.’
“And where is your granddaughter now?’ I asked the old fellow.
“‘She’s lugged a tin of paint over to the house at the far end. She’ll probably spend the night there, with the old Losin couple. Yeah... She may spend the night there.’
“‘What kind of paint, and what’s it for?’
“‘Just ordinary oil-based paint, bright orange. She got it from the steamship in exchange for fish. That’s her latest fancy’
“And what kind of fancy might that be?’
“‘She’s decided that all the huts need freshening up. Need to look more cheerful. So when the ship comes —
that’s the ship that collects fish that’s been caught around here, she goes and offers 'em a whole catch of fish in exchange for paint. And then she lugs the tin of paint to one of the huts. She asks them to paint the nalichniks? And the old people start painting. Soon it’ll be my turn. Whaddya know! I’ll do the painting. Why not? Maybe it’ll be better if the painting gets done, if the huts are going to look more cheerful on the outside.’
“And where does she get the fish from?’
“‘She catches them herself. Every morning she brings home two or three connies, sometimes more. If only once she’d come home empty-handed, but no, the fish just seem to land on her hooks all by themselves. And here I’m lying in bed with my back problems, and she says to me: get up. And keeps at me: “Get up, Grandpa! You’ve gotta salt the fish, so it doesn’t go bad.” Every morning it’s the same,’ the old fellow muttered, but with no trace of annoyance in his voice.
“So I asked him howAniuta managed to cope with the fishing tackle — all by herself?
‘“See, I told you,’ he replied. Aniuta’s got a helper — this Siberian laika. He may be old, but he’s smart, and obedient. He helps her carry out all her fancies. Aniuta takes my throw-line with its five hooks, neatly arranges the bait on the hooks and goes down to her treasured spot on the riverbank every evening with her laika. She’ll tie one end of the line to a post on the shore, then attaches the other end to a stick. The dog then takes the stick in his mouth and swims out into the river. He keeps on swimming as long as Aniuta, standing on the shore, keeps encouraging him: “Swim, Druzhok, swim, Bruzhok!”5 The dog keeps pulling the line until Aniuta changes the tone of her voice as she calls: “Come here, Druzhok, come here, Druzhok!” Then the dog releases the stick from his jaws and swims back to shore...
‘“Well, that’s enough for now. Let’s get some sleep.’
“With that the old fellow climbed onto the stove.6 And I lay down on the wooden sofa. When I woke up at dawn, I went outside and saw Aniuta down by the river tugging on the iron ring to which the fishing line was attached. A huge Siberian laika was helping her. The laika had grasped hold of the ring with his teeth and braced himself with his legs as he backed up. Together they were dragging the line with quite a decent catch on the end of it. Aniuta was wearing rubber boots three sizes too big over her bare feet.
“Once the catch was almost at the shore, she took hold of a scoop net and ran down to collect the fish. The laika was standing on his hind legs, holding the ring in his teeth. Aniuta went into the water deeper than her boots allowed, and the water started pouring over the tops of her boots.
“She drew the catch onto the riverbank and unhooked three splendid fish, which she put into a bag. Then she and the laika together took hold of the rope attached to a piece of plywood carrying the bag, and dragged it home.
“The water was sloshing around in Aniuta’s boots, interfering with her walking. She stopped and took off her boots — first one, then the other — and stood barefoot on the cold ground while she emptied out the water. Then she put on her wet boots again and continued on her way.
‘As the two of them together lugged their morning catch up to the porch, I got a good look at Aniuta’s face and was amazed.
“Her cheeks were a rosy red, and her little eyes were sparkling with determination. These, together with the hint of a smile on her face, made her virtually unrecognisable by comparison with the sickly, sallow-skinned little girl I had met earlier. Aniuta set about rousing her grandfather. With a rather loud wheeze he climbed down from the stove and put on a jacket. Then he took a knife and salt and proceed to cut up the fish. In the meantime Aniuta served me tea, and I asked her why she got up so early every morning to bring home the fish.
“‘Those fellows on the steamship, on the river, they come and collect our fish,’ she said. ‘They give me money And I asked them to bring me paint for the houses in our village. They brought me the paint in exchange for the fish. Along with some lovely material for a dress. For that I gave them all the fish I had caught that week.’ And when she said that, she went and fetched a huge piece of magnificent silk fabric.
“‘Well, Ania,’ I observed, ‘I see there’s enough here for more than one dress. How come so much?’
“‘This isn’t for me. I’ve got it ready as a present for my Mamochka, when my Mamochka comes to see me. And I’m also going to give her a beautiful shawl and a long beaded necklace.’
“Then Aniuta opened an old worn suitcase and pulled out a pair of imported women’s pantihose, a pearl necklace and a magnificent brightly-coloured shawl.
“‘I don’t want Mamochka to be upset that she can’t give me any presents. I can buy everything for her now myself. I don’t want her to think she’s been wasting her life.’
“I watched as she joyfully showed me the gifts she had prepared for her mother — she was so happy admiring them — and
I realised what had happened: here Aniuta had transformed herself from an utterly helpless, pitiful little girl, waiting for somebody else to help her, into an active, self-confident individual. And happy that she has known such great success, or maybe her happiness stems from an entirely different source...
“Now I believe that each one’s happiness lies within themselves, within each one of us. It is there at a particular level of awareness. The only question is: how do we reach that level?! Anastasia helped little Aniuta reach it. Will she be able to help everyone else do the same? Or maybe we ourselves need to learn in some way how to figure things out ourselves.”
Alexander fell silent, and we each became absorbed in our own thoughts.
I wrapped myself in a short thick coat and laid my head against a log. I began looking up at the bright northern stars, and it seemed they were quite low overhead and were also being warmed by the flames of our fire. I tried to go to sleep.
After about three hours’ sleep, at dawn Alexander and I headed for the motorboat. But before casting off, Alexander suddenly announced:
“I’ve been thinking. Now I’m certain. It’s not worth your while going into the taiga. Ton won’t find Anastasia there now. Nobody can find her, including you.”
‘Anastasia’s gone. She’s gone deep into the taiga. She couldn’t help leaving. If you try to go after her, you might get killed. You’re not suited to the taiga. Besides, you’ve got to write some more. To fulfil your promise to her.”
“In order to write more, I’ve got to hear her answers to the many questions from my readers. Questions about children, about different religions...”
“Nobody’ll find her now.”
“Why do you keep parroting: ‘She can’t be found! She can’t be found!’ I know where her glade is, I’ll find her.”
“I tell you, you won’t. Anastasia can’t help but realise that there are people out to hunt her down.”
“What do you mean, they’re out to hunt her down? Is somebody bribing the local hunters? Just like they pay you and Yegorych?”
“Me and Yegorych? No way! We try to persuade people not to interfere with her, not to alarm her. And if that doesn’t work, we take them and let them off on the opposite shore. The local hunters can’t be bribed; they’ve got laws and values of their own. They knew about Anastasia long before you came along. They’ve always treated her with great respect. They’ve been careful even when speaking about her amongst themselves. They don’t like it when strangers show up in the taiga, and they’re pretty good shots.”
“Then who could possibly hunt her down?”
“I think: whoever has led us into the condition we find ourselves in at this moment. And is still leading us.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“Each one of us has to work that out more specifically on their own.”
“But still, who do you have in mind? Someone like Boris
“He’s just a tool. There’s something we can’t see that’s playing with us. And Boris Moiseevich is starting to realise that now And maybe the one who hired him has realised it, too.”