Book 5. Who are we? (2001)
Equestrienne from the future
I saw a wagon emerging from the settlement, or rather a carriage with a folding top, drawn by a sorrel mare. On the carriage’s plush seat sat an elderly woman, with baskets of apples and vegetables at her feet. Up in front a shirtless boy about seven years old held the reins, but did not appear to be controlling the horse. No doubt they had been along this route many times before and the horse was simply trotting leisurely along a familiar route.
The boy turned to the elderly woman and said something to her. His grandmother smiled and began to sing. The boy started singing along with her, picking up on the refrain. As for the tourists in their electric motorcoach passing by on the parallel highway about a kilometre distant, there was no way they could catch the sound of their song.
Practically the whole coach had their field glasses trained on the carriage and its passengers. They watched the spectacle unfold with bated breath, as though they had seen a miracle or an interplanetary alien, and again the thought came to me that there was something not quite right here: people had come from such a long ways away and couldn’t even carry on a normal conversation with the local residents, but were limited to observing them from a distance. And the two occupants of the carriage weren’t even looking their way.
One of the tourist coaches slowed down to keep pace with the horse’s trot. The coach was filled with children visiting from abroad, excitedly waving their hands at the little boy
and his grandmother riding in the handsome carriage, but not once was there even a glance in return.
All at once a young equestrienne emerged from one of the gates of the settlement, which were beautifully enwreathed with living vegetation. Her chestnut-coloured racehorse maintained a heated gallop in a bid to catch up to the carriage, and was soon prancing daintily alongside. The elderly woman smiled, listening as the young equestrienne spoke to her.
Even though the boy may not have been too happy at having their duet interrupted, his voice could not help but betray an inner joy as he said:
“Oh, Mamochka, you’re a regular jumping jack! You can’t stay still for a moment!”
The young woman laughed, reached into her canvas saddle bag and took out a pirozhok, handing it to the little boy He took a bite of it and then offered it to the elderly woman, saying:
“Here you are, Granny, try it — it’s still warm!”
The boy gave a tug on the reins and stopped the carriage. He leant down and with both hands picked up a basket of yummy-looking apples. He held it out to the woman rider with the words: “Please, Mama, take these to them/’ nodding in the direction of the touring coach with the visiting children on board.
Grasping the heavy basket of apples easily with one hand, with the other hand she gave her prancing steed a pat on its neck, and galloped off toward the children’s motorcoach. Several other tourist coaches in the meantime had pulled up beside it, all eyes fixed on the young woman rider galloping toward them over the fields clutching the basket of apples with one hand.
Dashing up to the children who had now spewed forth out of the coach, she reined in her steed, and without leaving the saddle, deftly bent down and placed the apple basket on the ground in front of the excited children.
After managing to give a dark-haired little boy a pat on the head, she waved a greeting to all and headed off on her steed right down the middle of the dual motorway The driver of the children’s coach was talking on his two-way radio:
“She’s galloping right down the median strip! She’s marvellous!”
Many of the touring coaches along the motorway pulled over to the side and stopped. People quickly got out and spread themselves along the roadside, watching the beautiful young equestrienne galloping along at full speed. No shouts, but rather whispers of excitement emanated from many people’s lips. And here was really something to be excited about. Sparks flying from his hooves, the steed flew along unhindered in his heated gallop. His rider carried no whip in her hand, or even a switch, yet the steed kept quickening his step, his hooves barely touching the asphalt, his mane streaming from the brisk headwind. No doubt he was extremely proud of his rider and wanted to prove worthy of this beautiful woman on his back.
Indeed, she was exceptionally beautiful in appearance. Of course one could get excited about her perfect facial contours, her light-brown braid and thick eyelashes. Of course, beneath her white hand-embroidered blouse and flowered skirt with white camomiles one could easily picture a shapely supple waist on this girl with such a magnificent figure, whose smooth, feminine lines seemed to frame some sort of irrepressible energy. The blush playing on her cheeks gave but a glimpse of the majesty and boundless possibilities of this unfathomable energy The young equestrienne’s unusually healthy-looking appearance (she looked like a girl in her late teens!) quite distinguished her from that of the people standing by the side of the road. She sat upright on her frisky steed with not a trace of tension in her body; She wasn’t holding on to the pommel of her saddle, or even the reins. And her legs were thrown over one side of the horse’s rump without a stir-rup on either foot.
As she rode along with her eyelids lowered, she gracefully wove her wind-tossed hair into a tight braid. And she had only to raise her eyelids to inflame one of the crowd of people with some kind of invisible but captivating fire. Whoever caught her gaze felt himself straighten up inside and stand tall.
It seemed that these people could feel the light and energy emanating from the equestrienne and were trying to let it at least partially fill their being. She understood their desire, and generously shared what she had, galloping on and just being beautiful.
All of a sudden an excited Italian man ran out across the motorway right in front of the oncoming steed. He waved his arms wildly to each side, crying out in excitement: Rossiya! I love you, Rossiya!2 The young rider was completely unmoved by her steed rearing up on its hind legs and prancing on the spot. With one hand simply holding on to the pommel of her saddle, she used the other to pluck a flower of the garland adorning her hair and toss it down to the Italian. Catching his gift, he pressed it tenderly to his chest like a valuable treasure, constantly repeating: Mamma mia! Mamma mia!
But the beautiful equestrienne was no longer paying attention to the impetuous Italian. She had only to touch the reins and the horse broke into a lightly prancing walk, and headed over to the people standing on the roadside. As the crowd parted, the young equestrienne gave a sprightly leap down from her steed, coming face to face with a woman of European appearance who was holding a baby girl fast asleep in her arms.
The mother was slouching a little, her face was pale and eyes fatigued, and she seemed to have a hard time holding her baby still without waking her. The equestrienne gave the woman a big smile, and the two mothers’ glances met.
It was not difficult to notice the difference in the two women’s mental states. The mother with the baby had a depressed look, which gave her the appearance of a fading flower in comparison with the young woman who had just approached her — a woman whose countenance suggested an irrepressible explosion of blossoms from thousands of gardens.
The two women looked each other in the eye without a word between them. And then all at once, as though startled by a new conscious awareness of something, the woman holding the sleeping baby straightened up, and her face broke into a broad smile. With a graceful, very feminine movement of her hands, the Russian woman took the beautiful garland from her own head and placed it on the head of the mother holding the baby, though they still didn’t say a single word to each other.
Once more the beautiful equestrienne deftly mounted her steed which had been standing meekly at her side, and headed off. For some reason the people all gave her a round of applause. The now-smiling slender woman, whose baby daughter had by this time awakened with a smile of her own on her little face, kept watching as the figure ofher new-found friend receded into the distance. As for the impetuous Italian, he was running after her holding an expensive watch he had taken off his wrist, calling out to her: A souvenir, mamma mial But by this time the beautiful rider was already far away
The adventuresome racehorse turned off the highway in front of a patio decked out with long tables, where another group of tourists was sitting, drinking and berry drinks. They were
also sampling other delicacies waiters kept bringing to them out of a building replete with beautiful Russian carvings.
Another building was in the finishing stages of construc-tion next door. Two people were attaching to one of the windows of the new building — probably a shop or dining salon — a beautiful carved wooden nalichnik. Upon hearing the hoofbeats, one of the men turned in the direction of the approaching rider, said something to his fellow-worker and jumped down from the scaffolding. Reining in her horse, the impetuous equestrienne sprang down to the ground and, quickly unfastening her canvas bag from the saddle, ran over to the man and gently handed it to him.
“Pirozhki... With apple filling, just the way you like them. They’re still warm.”
“You’re my little jumping jack, Ekaterinka,” the man said tenderly Whereupon he reached into the bag, took out a pirozhok and bit into it. His face writhed with pleasure.
The tourists sitting at the tables stopped their eating and drinking, admiring the young lovers. There stood the pair face to face — the man working on the building and the beautiful young equestrienne just dismounted from her fiery steed — as though they were not already married with children, but a courting couple fervently in love. And here was this beautiful woman, who had just ridden fifteen kilometres, who seemed so invincible and as free as the wind under the excited gaze of the tourists, calmly standing in front of her beloved, first
looking him in the eye, then lowering her eyelids in embar-rassment. All at once the man stopped eating and said:
’’Ekaterinushka, look, a wet spot has broken out on your blouse — that means it’s time to feed Vanechka.”6
She covered the little wet spot on her milk-filled breast with the palm of her hand and answered, somewhat embarrassed: “111 manage it. He’s still sleeping. I’ll take care of everything.” “Better hurry. I’ll be home soon, too. We’re just finishing up here. D’you like what we’ve done?”
She took a look at the windows framed by the decorative carved nalichniks.
“Yes. Very much. But there’s something else I wanted to tell you.” “Go on.”
She came up close to her husband and stood on tiptoe as if to whisper something in his ear. He leaned over to listen, but she just gave him a quick kiss on his cheek. Then, without even turning around, she sprang into the saddle of her steed standing alongside her, her happy trilling laughter mingling with the hoofbeats. Then it was off to home she galloped — this time not along the asphalt motorway, but across the grasses of the open fields. As before, the tourists could not take their eyes off her so long as she remained in sight.
What was so special about this young woman — a mother with two young children — riding across the open fields on her adventuresome steed? Yes, she was beautiful. Yes, one could feel her overflowing energy Yes, she was kind. But why couldn’t anyone take their eyes off her as she rode away?
Perhaps it was more than just a woman riding a horse across a field. Perhaps it was Happiness incarnate hurrying home to feed an infant and later welcome her beloved husband? And people couldn’t help but admire Happiness hurrying back to her home.