Book 1. Anastasia (1996)
Beast or Man?
We continued our journey to Anastasia’s home, her outer clothes left behind in the tree hollow. Her galoshes too. She was still wearing the short, light-weight frock. She herself picked up my bag and offered to carry it. Barefoot, she walked ahead of me with an amazingly light and graceful step, waving the bag about her with ease.
We talked the whole time. Talking with her on any subject was most interesting. Perhaps because she had her own strange ideas about everything.
Sometimes Anastasia would whirl about while we were walking. She turned her face to me, laughing, and kept on walking backwards for awhile, quite absorbed in the conversation without so much as a glance down at her feet. How could she walk like that and not once stumble, or prick her bare feet against the knot of a dry branch? We didn’t seem to be following any visible path; on the other hand, our way was not hindered by the tangled undergrowth so common in the taiga.
As she walked she would occasionally touch or quickly brush by a leaf or a twig on a bush. Or, bending over without looking, she would tear off some little blade of grass and... eat it.
“Just like a little creature,” I thought.
When berries were handy, Anastasia would offer me a few to eat as we walked. The muscles of her body didn’t seem to have any unusual features. Her overall physique appeared quite average. Not too thin and not too plump. A resilient, well-fed and very beautiful body. But, from what I could tell, it possessed a goodly degree of strength and extremely sharp reflexes.
Once when I stumbled and started to fall, my arms outstretched in front of me, Anastasia whirled around with lightning speed, quickly placing her free hand under me, and I landed with my chest on her palm, her fingers spread wide. There she was supporting my body
with the palm of one hand, helping it regain its normal position. During all this time she went on talking, with not the slightest sign of strain. After I had straightened up with the help of her hand, we continued on our way, as though nothing whatever had happened. For some reason my mind momentarily rested on the gas pistol I had in my bag.
With all the interesting conversation I hadn't realised how much ground we had actually been covering. All at once Anastasia stopped, put my bag down under a tree and joyfully exclaimed:
“Here we are at home!”
I looked around. A neat little glade, dotted with flowers amidst a host of majestic cedars, but not a single structure to be seen. Not even a hut. In a word, nothing! Not even a primitive lean-to! But Anastasia was beside herself with joy. As though we had arrived at a most comfortable dwelling.
‘And where is your house? Where do you eat, sleep, take shelter from the rain?”
“This is my house, Vladimir. I have everything here.”
A dark sense of disquiet began to come over me.
“Where is everything? Let's have a tea-kettle, so we can at least heat up some water on the fire. Let's have an axe.”
“I do not have a kettle or an axe, Vladimir. And it would be best not to light a fire.”
“What are you talking about? She doesn't even have a kettle?! The water in my bottle is all gone. You saw when I ate. I even threw the bottle away Now there's only a couple of swallows of cognac left. To get to the river or the village is a good day's walk, and I'm so tired and thirsty Where do you get water from? What do you drink out of?”
Seeing my agitation, Anastasia herself showed signs of concern. She quickly took me by the hand and led me through the glade into the forest, admonishing me along the way:
“Not to worry Vladimir! Please. Don't get upset. I shall take care of everything. You just rest. Get a good sleep. I shall take care of everything. You will not be cold. You are thirsty? I shall give you something to drink right away”
Less than ten or fifteen metres from the glade, beyond a clump of bushes, we came across a small taiga lake. Anastasia quickly scooped
Beast or Man? 25
up a small quantity of water in her cupped hands and raised it to my face.
“Here Is some water. Drink It, please.”
“What, are you crazy? How can you drink raw water out of some puddle In the woods? You saw how I was drinking borzhomi1 On board ship even for washing we pass the river water through a special filter, chlorinate It, ozonise It.”
“It Is not a puddle, Vladimir. This Is pure, living water! Good water! Not half-destroyed water, like yours. You can drink this water, just like mother's milk! Look.”
Anastasia raised her cupped hands to her lips and took a drink.
I blurted out:
4 Anastasia, are you some kind of beast?”
“Why a beast? Because my bed Is not like yours? There are no cars? No appliances?”
“Because you live like a beast, In the forest, you haven't any possessions, and you seem to enjoy that.”
“Yes, I enjoy living here.”
“There, you see, you just made my point.”
“Do you consider, Vladimir, that what distinguishes Man from all other creatures living on Earth Is his possession of manufactured objects?”
“Yes! But even more precisely — his civilised existence.”
“Amd do you consider your existence to be more civilised? Yes, of course, you do. But I am not a beast, Vladimir.
“I am Man!