Book 1. Anastasia (1996)
Concert in the taiga
I proposed that she herself come to Moscow and appear on TV.
“Just think, Anastasia, with your beauty you could easily be a world-class fashion or photomagazine model!”
And at this point I realised that she was no stranger to earthly matters — like all women, she delighted in being a beauty Anastasia burst out laughing.
‘A world-class beauty, eh?” She echoed my question and then, like a child, began to frolic about, prancing through the glade like a model on a catwalk.
I was amused at her imitation of a fashion model, placing one foot in front of the other in turn as she walked, showing off imaginary outfits. Finding myself getting into the act, I applauded and announced:
‘And now, ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please! Performing before you will be that magnificent gymnast, second-to-none, that incomparable beauty: Anastasia!”
This announcement tickled her fancy even more. She ran out into the middle of the glade and executed an incredible flying somersault — first forward, then backward, then to the side, both left and right, then an amazingly high leap into the air. Grasping a tree- branch with one hand, she swung herself around it twice before flinging her body over to another tree. After yet another somersault, she began to bow coquettishly to my applause. Then she ran off out of the glade and hid behind some thick bushes. Anastasia peeped smilingly out from behind them, as though they were a theatre-curtain, impatiently awaiting my next announcement.
I remembered a videotape I had of some of my favourite songs being performed by popular artists. I would watch it occasionally in the evening in my cabin aboard ship. I had this tape in mind (but not
with the thought that Anastasia would actually be able to reproduce anything from it) as I announced:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I now present to you the star singers of our current stage, in a performance of their top hits. Your attention, please!”
Oh, how wrong I had been in my estimate of her abilities. What happened next I could not possibly have predicted. No sooner had Anastasia made her entrance from behind her improvised curtain, than she launched into the authentic voice of Alla Pugachova. No, it wasn’t just a parody or an imitation, but Alla herself, effortlessly conveying not only her voice, but her intonations and emotions as well.
But an even more amazing feature was to come. Anastasia accentuated particular words, adding something of her own, infusing the song with her own supplemental attenuations, so that Alla Pugachova’s own performance, which before, it seemed, nobody else could even begin to surpass, now called forth a whole new range of additional feelings, illuminating the images even more clearly.
In a magnificently executed overall performance of the song:
Once lived an artist alone,
Canvases all through his home.
He loved an actress, he thought,
Flowers were her love, fresh-grown.
He went and sold his big home,
Sold every canvas he owned,
And with the money he bought Whole fields of flowers, fresh-grown.
Anastasia put particular emphasis on the word “canvas”.
She screamed out this word in fright and surprise. A canvas is an artist’s most prized possession — without it he can no longer
create — and here he is giving up the most precious thing he owns for the sake of his loved one. Later, as she sang the words Then she went off on the train, Anastasia tenderly portrayed the artist in love, looking longingly after the departing train which was carrying off his loved one forever. She portrayed his pain, his despair, his perplexed state of mind.
I was too shaken by everything I had seen and heard to applaud at the end of the song. Anastasia bowed, anticipating the applause and, hearing none, launched into a new song with even more enthusiasm. She performed all of my favourite songs, in the same order they had been recorded on the videotape. And every single song, which I had heard so many times before, was now even clearer and more meaningful in her rendition.
Upon completing the last song on the tape, still hearing no applause, Anastasia retreated 'backstage9. Too dumbfounded to speak, I remained seated in silence, still feeling an extraordinary impression from what I had just witnessed. Then I jumped up, began applauding and cried:
"Terrific, Anastasia! Encore! Bravo! All performers on stage!"
Anastasia gingerly stepped forth and gave a bow I kept on shouting:
"Encore! Bravo!” — clapping my hands and stamping my feet.
She too livened up. She clapped her hands and cried:
"Encore — does that mean Again?”
"Yes, again! And again! And again!... You did it so marvellously Anastasia! Better than the singers themselves! Even better than our top stars!”
I fell silent and began attentively studying Anastasia. I thought how multifaceted her soul must be if she could infuse her singing performance with so many new, splendid, clear features. She too stood motionless, silently and enquiringly looking at me.
'Anastasia, do you have any song of your own? Couldn9t you sing something of your own, something I haven't heard before?”
"I could, but my song does not have any words. Would you still like to hear it?”
"Please sing your song.”
And she started in singing her most unusual song, Anastasia first screamed like a newborn baby. Then her voice started sounding quiet, tender and caressing. She stood beneath a tree, her hands clasped to her breast, her head bowed. It was like a lullaby, gently caressing a little one with her voice. Her voice spoke to him of something very tender. Her soft voice, amazingly pure, caused everything around to grow silent — the birds9 singing, the chirping of the crickets in the grass. At that point Anastasia seemed to take absolute delight in the little one waking from sleep. The sound of rejoicing could be heard in her voice. The incredibly high-pitched sounds soared above the Earth before taking flight into the heights of infinity. Anastasia’s voice first pleaded, then went into battle, and once again caressed the little one and bestowed joy upon all around.
I too felt this all-pervading sense of joy And when she finished her song, I joyfully exclaimed:
'And now, my dear ladies and gentlemen, a unique and never-to-be- repeated number by the top animal trainer in the world! The most agile, brave, charming trainer, capable of taming any beast of prey on Earth! Behold and tremble!99
Anastasia positively squealed with delight, leapt into the air, clapped her hands in rhythm, shouted something, started in whistling. Something I could never have imagined began taking place in the glade.
First the she-wolf made her entrance. She leapt out of the bushes and stopped at the edge of the glade, giving a puzzled look around. In the trees furthest from the glade squirrels sprang from branch to branch. Two eagles circled low overhead, while little creatures of some kind rustled in the bushes. With the sharp crackle of dry twigs as he broke and crushed the bushes, a huge bear lumbered out into the glade and stopped, as though embedded in the ground, just short of Anastasia. The wolf began growling at him disapprovingly, since the bear had approached so close to Anastasia without an invitation.
Anastasia ran up to the bear, playfully stroking his muzzle, then grabbed him by his front paws and stood him upright. Judging by the fact that she didn’t seem to be exerting much physical effort in this, the bear himself must have been carrying out her commands according to how much he understood and hove he interpreted them.
He stood stock still, trying to understand what was desired of him. Anastasia took a running leap and, grabbing hold of the thick scruff of the bear's neck, did a handstand on his shoulders, jumping off again with a somersault on her way down. Then she took the bear by one paw and started to bend over, pulling the bear after her — creating the impression that she was tossing him over her shoulder. This trick would have been impossible if the bear had not been able to do it himself. Anastasia simply guided him. It looked at first as though the bear was going to fall on Anastasia, but at the last moment he reached out a paw to the ground and broke his fall. He was no doubt doing everything he could not to harm his mistress or friend. In the meantime the wolf was become more and more concerned — she was already standing at the place of the action, thrashing from side to side, growling or howling with displeasure.
At the edge of the glade there appeared several more wolves, and when Anastasia was on the point of yet another routine boss’ of the bear over her shoulder, the bear, attempting to do the trick properly, fell over on his side and remained motionless.
At last the wolf, now at her wits’ end, and with a malicious grin, made a leap in the bear’s direction. With lightning speed Anastasia placed herself in the wolf’s path. The wolfbraked with all fours, somersaulted over her back, bumping into Anastasia’s leg. Immediately Anastasia put one hand on the back of the wolf, who obediently crouched to the ground. With her other hand she began waving, as she had done that first time with me when I had tried to embrace her without her consent.
The forest around us began to make a rustling sound — not threat-eningly, but with some agitation. The agitation was felt as well in all the big and little creatures jumping, running and hiding. Anastasia began taking away the agitation. First, she stroked the wolf, slapped her on the back and sent her off out of the glade as though she were a pet dog. The bear was still lying on his side in an uncomfortable pose, like a fallen scarecrow He was probably waiting to see what else was required of him. Anastasia went over to him, made him stand up, stroked his muzzle and sent him out of the glade like the wolf.
Anastasia, blushing and cheerful, ran over and sat down beside me, breathed in deeply and slowly exhaled. I noticed that her breathing all at once became even, as though she hadn’t been carrying out any extraordinary exercises at all.
“They do not understand play-acting, and they ought not to — it is not entirely a good thing,” Anastasia remarked. Then she asked me: “Well, how was I? Do you think I could find any kind of work in your life?”
“You’re terrific, Anastasia, but we already have all that, and our circus trainers show us a lot of interesting tricks with animals, but you don’t have a hope of breaking through all the red tape to even get started. There are so many formalities and machinations to deal with. You don’t have any experience in that.”
The remainder of our play consisted in going over possible alternatives: where could Anastasia get a job in our world and how would she overcome the formalities in the way? But no easy alternative presented itself, since Anastasia had neither a residence permit nor proof of education, and nobody would believe the stories about her origins on the basis of her abilities, no matter how extraordinary they might be. Suddenly turning serious, Anastasia said:
“Of course I would like to visit one of the big cities again, maybe Moscow, to see how accurate 1 was in visualising certain situations from your life. For one thing, I am at a complete loss to understand how the dark forces manage to fool women to such a degree that they unwittingly attract men with the charms of their bodies, and thereby deprive them of the opportunity of making a real choice — to choose someone close to their heart. And then they themselves suffer for not being able to create a real family, since...”
And once again she launched into deep and poignant discussions about sex, family and the upbringing of children, and I could only think: “The most incredible thing in all I have seen and heard is her ability to talk about our lifestyle and understand it in such specific detail!”