Book 8, part 2. The Rites of Love (2006)
One day a girl in her mid-twenties by the name of Liuba came to one of the ‘soulmate gatherings’. She was wearing an embroidered linen blouse and a plain skirt whose hem reached just below the knees. A small travel-bag was slung on a strap over her shoulder, but it contained nothing more than a few rather plain outfits.
The girl walked up and down the street in the hopes of finding some sort of privately run lodging for the night. During the gatherings all hotels (both for Russian and foreign visitors) and pension rooms had been booked up in advance. Besides, Liuba could not afford an expensive hotel room, and so she was looking for plainer lodgings. But there was no chance of finding any privately-run accommodation during the nuptial gatherings. With little hope of success, Liuba asked a woman who happened to be coming out of the gate in front of a private house: “Hello, there. Could you tell me please, whether you might have any rooms available in your house for overnight accommodation? I’m looking for something not too expensive.” The woman replied:
“Not much chance of that, dearie. Everything’s been booked up for ages. All the visitors make arrangements in advance through the housing office. You’re just wasting your time. You’d better head for the railway station, or you won’t find a place to sit down even there.”
“Thanks for the advice. I’ll probably do that,” Liuba responded and headed down the street in the direction of the terminal.
“Wait a minute, dearie. Come here,” the woman called out, and Liuba came back to her.
“I’ll tell you what you can do. Try knocking or ringing the bell five houses down. There’s a doorbell right at the gate — try ringing it. Maybe an old woman will come out — one that looks like Baba-Yaga. She’s Greek, and has a hooked nose. My husband says that all Greek women are beautiful when they’re young, but when they get old, they all end up looking like BabaToshkas.
‘Anyway, dearie, you can ask and see if she’s got any rooms. Before, when her husband was still alive, she used to have all sorts of people stop over, but he died, and she hasn’t let a single person in these past three years now. Anyway, you can always try asking — she just might give you a room.”
“Thanks, I’ll try,” replied Liuba. And she went along to the house the woman pointed out. She rang the bell once, and a minute later she tried it again, right at the gate, but nobody came out. Finally, after ten minutes had gone by, the door creaked open, and a bent-over old woman came out. She came down the grapevine-lined path and opened the gate, groaning at every step. She started in speaking without any formalities of saying hello.
“What you knockin’ at my gate for, girl?” she asked with a tone of annoyance.
“I wanted to ask you about a room. A kind lady, your neighbour, suggested I should.”
“She was not bein’ no kind, she was laughin’ at you. I haint had no roomers for ages.”
“I know, she told me that too. But I’ve been looking all day and I haven’t found anything, so I decided to ring your bell, just on the off-chance.”
“Just on ‘off-chance’, eh? Well, you won’t find any ‘off- chance’ with me. 'You’ve all come here just on ‘off-chance’... So, just like everyone else, you have come here to find yourself‘a bloke’?”
“I want to meet my intended. Please, forgive me for bothering you. I’ll head down to the station and spend the night there.”
It began to drizzle, and the old woman grumbled:
“To hell with these girls! To hell with them! And now — it’s started: rain. Fine, I will set you under this tent-roof in my garden. There is this hammock there, and this bench, and nails for you can hang your clothing up. And for this you will pay me five hundred roubles each night.”
“Five hundred?!” exclaimed Liuba in surprise.
‘And just how much was you thinkin’ it will be? What, you imaginin’ that you are come to visit your relations?”
“Okay, I’ll give you five hundred. Only I wanted to stay here ten days. Never mind, I’ll just stay for five. I agree to your terms, Granny”
“Then come. You can see where you will sleep and pay me this money each day in advance.”
Five days went by On the fifth morning Liuba began neatly packing her plain-looking clothing away in her bag. The old woman approached her, groaning and leaning on her cane. “So you already start packin’, eh, girl? You leavin’?”
“Yes, Granny. It’s been five days now.”
“Five days. You got your ticket?” the old woman asked, sitting down on the bench.
“Yes, I bought a single/return ticket before I left home. The return is actually for five days from now, but I think I’ll be able to exchange it at the station and get one for today or tomorrow.”
“No chance of that — not with everyone and her dog cornin’ and goin’ around here these days. I will tell you something, girl, you stay with me five days more until your ticket will be good.”
“I can’t. I’ve got no money left to pay you.”
“No worry. No need to pay, you just stay”
‘“Thanks,’ she says... Only your stayin’ will not do you any good!”
“Why d’you say that?”
“I been watchin’ you. That is no good way to look for ‘a bloke’ these days. Why you are up at dawn each day? What is the use? All ‘a blokes’ are still asleep that time of day. But you — you go to bed right early Right when all this partyin’ begins, this is when you decide to go to bed for each night! All those ‘a blokes’ keep partyin’ ’til midnight, while you are in bed at ten. Besides, you dress like a nun, no makeup. That is no good way to find ‘a bloke’ today”
“I’m preparing my body, you see, Granny, for my encounter with my intended. And so I try to maintain a strict daily routine. I don’t make myself up so that he can recognise me.” “Recognise?! You, girl, you sound like you are ‘a mite daft in the head’!”
“That’s what my Mama says, too. But there’s nothing I can do about it. I often have dreams about him looking for me all over the globe and not being able to find me.”
“Dreams? You have been dreamin’? Here too?”
“Yes, twice already Once it seemed I was walking in a huge garden, and he was there, too, only there was no way we could approach each other. And it seemed as though I could hear his voice, calling to me over and over: ‘Where are you? Where are you?’”
“You heard? A voice? You know, you probably ought go see a doctor, girl. What is all this about an ‘intended’ bein’ pounded in your head? To a point where you even hear voices, in your dreams?!”
“Sometimes I dream that I lived with him once a long, long time ago. And we had children and grandchildren.”
“Once upon a time? Well, girl, next thing you be tellin’ me you can say what he look like!”
“Yes, I can: he’s half a head taller than me, with light brown hair. And hazel eyes. And a kindly smile, only a little gap between two of his teeth. And he walks in a proper, dignified fashion.”
‘A gap between his teeth? His walk? But what if someone else should come?”
“They’ve come. My Mama’s always after me about that at home, saying that my dreams will keep me an old maid forever.”
“An old maid’? Of course, ‘an old maid’. You will never find your ‘bloke’ that way, not with those dreams of yours. You know, girl, I will tell you something. Here, take my rainbow shawl. Put it over your shoulders, and tie it just little more fashionably And go walk along the embankment later tonight.”
“Thank you, Granny, for your concern. But I can’t cover up my blouse with a shawl. You see, I did the embroidery myself. It came to me in a dream. And it seems as though at some time in the past I was wearing this embroidered blouse when I was taking a stroll with my intended in the garden.”
“Embroidered? Takin’a stroll? Well, girl, you... Well, God be your judge. There is some milk there on a table, and I have made scones. Have a bite to eat! I will just scoot to my neighbours’ for a bit.”
The old woman hobbled off with a groan, muttering all the while to herself: She will put me in my grave yet. I must be daft. I took her in, and now I cannot help worry about her. I will go talk to my neighbour’s son, see if he will show her some attention. Tes, he will show her some attention. He is dark-haired, and she wants light brown with a gap between his teeth, but there is nobody like that among my neighbours. She willput me in my grave!
That morning Liuba began wandering around the public garden. She picked up a pirozhok3 with potato filling for lunch. As she was walking past a restaurant, a group of men were just coming out of the door. They were laughing and chatting away in some foreign tongue. When they saw Liuba, they spoke to her in their own language. Liuba didn’t understand and walked on past. Right off the men began talking with other girls.
Then, all of a sudden, without turning around, she could feel someone detach himself from the group of cheerful foreigners and come after her. She knew for certain that she was his specific target. She even counted his footsteps without quickening her own pace, and for some reason her heart started to tremble. She could feel his breath behind her, and all at once the foreigner began addressing her in a language she couldn’t understand:
aMit dir, die wiinderschone Gottin, dtirfte ich den ewigen Raum der Liebe schaffen. ”4
Liuba could not decipher the German words. But for some reason she found herself whispering:
“I’m ready to help you in your grand co-creation!” and she turned around to look at the stranger.
There before her stood a young man, half a head taller than she. Light brown hair, hazel eyes, a kindly smile and a small gap between two of his teeth. He held out his arms to Liuba, and without realising quite what she was doing, Liuba snuggled her head against his chest. He hugged her trembling body as though he had known her for an eternity
The unseen planets in the heavens began to quiver for joy Oh, how many events did they need to create to arrange the threads of destiny for the ages! But it worked! They met and they embraced!
Radomir with his marvellous Liubomila! And even if they don’t remember the past, their souls will create a future to marvel at.
People on the beach couldn’t figure out why the young couple were creating some kind of design or sketch in the sand. They were speaking different languages, but it seemed as though they understood each other. First they would discuss the drawing, then argue a bit, and then all of a sudden come to an ecstatic agreement.
Carried away as they were with the drawing, Liubomila and Radomir did not know, either, that they were sketching in the sand a design of the splendid family domain which they had created just before their wedding five thousand years earlier.
“There should be a pond here, a round one,” said Radomir in his own language, and dug a little round hole in the sand to represent the pond.
“But not that shape,” whispered Liubomila. “It should definitely be oval,” she countered, changing the round hole to an oval shape.
“Yes, exactly, an oval pond is much better,” Radomir agreed, as though suddenly remembering something.
That evening they came back to the house where Liubomila was staying. She asked her elderly landlady permission for her companion to drop in for the evening. The landlady agreed.
With a smile on her face, Liubomila drifted off to sleep in the hammock, while he sat on the bench, gently rocking the hammock and delicately fending off flies with a small tree- branch. And he sang something very, very soft.
From a window in the house, the old woman peered at them through a crack in the curtain, until just before dawn.
In the morning on the little table in front of the house stood milk and scones, covered with a white linen tablecloth. There was also a note, written in an ageing hand. Liubomila read it aloud:
“I have gone away on errands. Will not be back for couple of days. Look after house. To look after it, stay in my big room. There is food in a fridge...”
Liubomila and Radomir left town together. But where did they go? The ages will show where their family line will be reborn.