Book 1. Anastasia (1996)
That day I had decided to join in Anastasia's morning routine. Everything went fine at first — I stood under the tree and touched various little shoots. She told me about different herbs, and then I lay down beside her on the grass. We were both completely naked, but even I wasn't cold — that might have been, of course, due to my running through the forest with hen I was in a splendid mood. I felt a sense of lightnes-s, and not just physically, but inside me as well.
It all started when I felt a pinching sensation on my thigh. I raised my head and saw a small army of bugs crawling along my thigh and lower leg — including ants, and some sort of beetle. I lifted my arm to swat them, but to no avail. Anastasia seized my arm in mid-air and held it, saying: “Do not touch them." Then she got up on her knees in front of me, bent over and pinned my other hand to the ground. I lay there as if crucified. I tried to free my arms, but couldn't — I felt that was an impossibility. Then I tried to jerk myself free, with great effort. She kept restraining me, with very little effort, her smile never fading from her face. And still my body felt more and more crawling things, all tickling, biting and pinching, and I came to the conclusion that they were starting to eat me alive.
I was in her hands both literally and figuratively Taking stock of the situation, I realised that nobody knew where I was, nobody would come here looking for me, and if they should happen to wander by, they would see my picked-over bones (indeed, if they saw any bones at all). And all sorts of things flashed through my head at that moment, and this was no doubt the reason my instinct for self- preservation kicked in, dictating the only feasible course of action in the situation. In desperation I sunk my teeth with all my might into Anastasia's bare breast, at the same time jerking my head from side to side. Upon hearing her scream I immediately loosened my grip on her breast. Anastasia loosened her hold, jumped up, one hand
holding her breast, the other stretched upward, waving. She tried to smile. I too jumped up and shouted at her, feverishly brushing the crawling things off my leg.
“You wanted to feed me to those vermin, you forest witch! Well, I don’t give in that easily!”
She continued waving and responding with a forced smile to the elements of Nature around her, which had begun reacting warily to her situation. Anastasia looked at me and slowly — not with her usual spritely gait — walked toward the lake, her head bowed. I kept standing in the same spot for some time, thinking what I should do next — return to the riverbank? But how would I find the way? Follow Anastasia, but what would be the point? Nevertheless, I headed for the lakeshore.
Anastasia was sitting on the shore, rubbing tufts of grass between the palms of her hands and dabbing its juice on that part of her breast where a huge bruise left by my bite was clearly visible. It was probably very painful for her. But what had been her thought in attempting to restrain me? I hovered around her for a little while before asking:
“Does it hurt?”
Without turning her head, she replied:
“It hurts more inside.” And she silently continued rubbing in the juice from the tufts of grass.
“Why were you thinking to play tricks on me?”
“I was trying to be helpful. The pores of your skin are all plugged up, they cannot breathe. The little bugs would have cleaned them out. It is not that painful — in fact it is rather pleasant.”
“And the snake I saw, wouldn’t it have stung me in the leg?”
“It was not doing you any harm. Even if it had released its venom, it would have been only on the surface, and I would have rubbed it in at once. The skin and muscles on your heel are deteriorating.”
“That’s on account of a car accident,” I said.
For a time neither of us spoke. The whole situation felt rather silly Not really knowing what to say I asked her:
“What happened? Why did not that invisible someone help you again, as before, when I lost consciousness?”
“The reason he did not help, was that I was smiling. And when you began biting me, I tried to smile.”
I began to feel uncomfortable in her presence. Picking up a tuft of grass, I rubbed it between my hands as hard as I could, then knelt down in front of her and began dabbing her bruise with my moistened palms.