Book 5. Who are we? (2001)
Eternity lies ahead for you and me
The rising Sun shone through the uncurtained windows straight onto the bed, waking me up. I had such a wonderful sleep! Some kind of extraordinary strength (fantastic!) was making its presence known inside me — I even felt like I wanted to do push-ups or some other kind of physical exercise. And I was in an excellent mood.
From the kitchen I could hear the clatter of dishes. Wow! I thought, Don’t tell me that’s Anastasia trying to make breakfast?! She doesn’t know how to cope with all the kitchen gadgets, or even how to turn on the gas. Maybe I’d better help her? I put on a track suit and opened the door to the kitchen. No sooner had I caught sight of Anastasia than a hot flash seemed to run through my entire body
This was the first time I had seen the Siberian recluse not in a taiga forest, not in her glade or by the seashore, but in a modern city woman’s most typical surroundings — the kitchen. She was leaning over the gas stove, trying to regulate the burner. She kept turning the gas knob up and down, but the old cooker was not designed for any settings except ‘high’ and ‘low’.
In the kitchen Anastasia appeared to be a completely normal woman. Now why did I go and scare her last night by bowing down on my knees? I’d probably had too much to drink and was beastly tired to boot.
Anastasia felt my gaze upon her, and turned to face me. One ofher cheeks sported a dab of flour, and from underneath her bandana a braid of hair clung to her slightly perspiring
forehead. Anastasia smiled. And her voice — that marvellous voice of hers!
“A splendid good morning for the coming day to you, Vladimir! You see, I have almost finished preparing breakfast. just a wee bit more to do. You go and wash up, and by then everything will be ready You go wash up, and do not worry — I shall not damage anything here — I have figured things out.”
Instead of heading for the bathroom right off, I stood there dumbfounded, just looking at Anastasia. For the first time in the five years we’d known each other I caught a glimpse of just how extraordinarily beautiful this woman really was. There are no words to describe a beauty like this. Even with a flour- spotted cheek, even without a fancy hairdo (her hair was simply tied back in a bun) — not to mention her plain, unfashionable clothing — she was still extraordinarily beautiful.
I headed off to the bathroom, did a careful job of shaving and took a shower. During all this time I could not get my thought off this woman’s beauty. When I came out of the bathroom, I sat down on the bed (which by this time had already been made). Instead of going into the kitchen, I just sat there, my mind still racing with thoughts about Anastasia.
It’s been five years now that I’ve known this woman, this recluse from the Siberian taiga. Five years... And how my whole life has changed over these five years! Even though we rarely get together, it seems she’s always around. And it’s really her!
Of course, it was thanks to her that I was able to patch up my relationship with my daughter. We get along famously now. And as for my wife, well, even though I haven’t been home in five years, I have talked with her on the telephone, and I can tell by her voice that my wife now speaks to me without any sense of coldness or resentment. She tells me that everything’s fine with the family
Anastasia... After all, she was the one who cured me. The doctors weren’t able to, but she was. I knew myself that I was in danger of dying, and she cured me, and she made me famous, too. Now I’m getting big royalties for my books, but they’re still her words, after all. And she always talks so tenderly, never gets angry Even if I get mad at her without meaning to, she still won’t get angry Of course she’s changed my life drastically, but she’s changed it for the better. It was she who bore me my son! Sure, it’s not your normal situa-tion — my son lives in her glade in Siberia, but it’s probably better for him there, with her.
She’s so very kind. I need to say something nice to her, and do something nice for her. Only what? There’s nothing she needs. Funny how it turns out — even if you owned half the world, she’d still have more than you. Still, I really felt like giving her some kind of gift. A long time ago I had bought her a pearl necklace. Not artificial, but large, natural pearls.
I decided this was a good moment to go and give it to her. I took the little jewellery box out of my suitcase, but instead of heading straight for the kitchen I decided, for some reason, to change my clothes. In place of the track suit I put on a pair of trousers, a white shirt and even a tie.
Then I put the necklace in my trouser pocket, but I was still too excited to go out to the kitchen. So I stood by the window, looking neat as a pin, until I managed to get a hold of myself. What’s going on here, anyway? I thought to myself. It’s high time! Enough of this silly emotionalism! And I walked out to the kitchen.
Anastasia was sitting at the table she had got all set for breakfast, waiting for me. She rose to greet me. By this time she had done her hair and put on a very neat appearance. She got up and silently gave me one of her tender looks with her greyish- blue eyes, while I just stood there, not knowing what to say Then I said, unexpectedly using the formal form of address:
“Good day to you, Anastasia!” My formality completely took me aback. But she replied in all seriousness, as though she hadn’t even noticed:
“Hello, Vladimir! Please, sit down. Breakfast is waiting.”
“Okay, I’ll take a seat. But first I wanted to say... I have something to tell you...” But I couldn’t remember the words.
“So, tell me, Vladimir.”
But I completely forgot what I was going to say. I went up close to Anastasia and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Whereupon my whole body flared up — I felt hot all over. And Anastasia’s cheeks flushed a deep red, and her eyelids fluttered faster than usual. And when I spoke, it didn’t sound like it was me at all, but some kind of constrained voice:
“That’s from all my readers, Anastasia. So many people are grateful to you.”
“From your readers? A big thank-you to all the readers. Thank you very much!” Anastasia quietly whispered.
And then I gave her a quick kiss on her other cheek and said:
“That one’s from me. You are extremely good and kind, Anastasia. And you are extremely beautiful. Thank you for
“You think I am beautiful, Vladimir? Thank you... Do you really think so?”
She was excited, too. I didn’t know what to do next. But then I remembered the pearl necklace in my pocket. I hastily pulled it out and began trying to undo the clasp.
“This is a gift for you, Anastasia. Those are pearls... real ones... they’re not fake. I know you don’t like anything artifi-cial, but those are real.”
But the clasp wouldn’t budge. I jerked at it, and the thread broke, and all the little pearls that had been threaded onto it clattered to the floor and scattered in different direc-tions. I sat down on the floor to pick them up. Anastasia began picking them up too, only she managed to go faster. I watched as she deposited the pearls into the palm of her hand. She took a careful look at each one, and I just sat there entranced with her movements. I sat there on the floor, leaning against the wall, and watched her in astonishment.
I thought to myself how common the standard kitchen was, but how uncommon and marvellous I felt everything was in my heart. Why? Probably because she was here in this very kitchen — Anastasia. She was right beside me, but for some reason I couldn’t muster up enough resolve to embrace her.
This woman, who back there five years ago in the taiga had seemed to be a somewhat abnormal recluse, now appeared as a star which had dropped in for a few moments from heaven. Here she was right beside me, yet as a star she was unreachable. And the years... Pity, the difference in years between us! I watched intently as Anastasia rose and put the pearls she had collected into a saucer on the table. Then she turned her head toward me. Entranced, I went on sitting there on the kitchen floor, leaning against the wall, and looking into her greyish-blue eyes. And she never averted her tender gaze even for a moment.
“Here you are right beside me, Anastasia, but now I can’t touch you. I feel as though you’re a distant star in the sky”
“A star? That’s how you feel? Why? Look! Here she is at your feet — this little star, turned into an ordinary woman.”
Anastasia quickly got down on her knees and sat next to me on the floor. She put her hands on my shoulder and rested her head on her hands. I could hear her heart beating, only my heart was beating a lot stronger. And her hair smelt of the taiga. Her breath was like a warm breeze infused with the intoxicating scent of flowers.
“Oh why, Anastasia, why couldn’t I have met you when I was young? Tou’re so young, and just look at how old I am! I’ve lived almost half a century already!”
“But it has taken me ages to break through to your wandering soul! Do not chase me away now.”
“I’m getting old, Anastasia. And my life will soon be at an end.”
“But while you are getting old, you will be able to plant your own family tree, and lay the foundation for a city with a splendid future, and a marvellous garden.”
“I’ll try Pity I shall have such a short time to live in this garden myself. It’ll take quite a few years to grow.”
“If you set it up, you will always live there.”
“Of course. Your body will grow old and die, but your soul will take flight!”
“The souls of the dead take flight — I know that. The soul takes flight, and that’s the end of it.”
“Oh, what a marvellous day we have today! Why are you creating a joyless future, Vladimir? You are creating it for yourself.”
“It’s not me creating it. That’s objective reality, plain and simple. First comes old age, then death — for everyone. And even you, my dear, sweet dreamer, cannot come up with any
Anastasia shuddered all over and moved slightly to one side. Her kind and cheerful eyes peered into mine and sparkled — radiating a joyful confidence that nothing could withstand.
“I have no reason to ‘come up with’ anything. There is only one truth. Death exists for the flesh — that is clear to everyone. For the flesh! In every other aspect death is a dream, Vladimir.”
“Yes, a dream.”
Anastasia got up on her knees and began talking, looking me straight in the eye. But somehow the way she talked silenced the kitchen radio, the sounds of voices and other noise outside the window, as she spoke in a gentle voice:
“My dearest! Eternity lies ahead for you and me. Life will always claim its own, you see. The littlest ray of sunlight glistens in the spring, and the soul enrobes itself in its new things. But the decaying body does not embrace the ground in vain. Come spring, from our bodies will sprout new flowers and grass again. You shall forever hear the birds sing, and drink in the drops of rain. In the blue sky above, the clouds — again and again — will entrance you with their dance.
“And if you, my dearest, should find yourself scattered across the unfathomable Universe as little specks of dust, still refusing to believe, then from these specks of dust wandering through eternity I shall begin to gather you up. And the tree you plant will help me do this: in the early spring, to the place where your soul lies in unfeeling peace, it will stretch out its branch above. And those you have been kind to upon the Earth will remember you with love. And if the sum total of earthly love is not enough to materialise you once again, then there is one — one whom you know, and on every plane of being she will be flaming with a single breath of desire, namely: materialise yourself, my love! — there is one who will give herself over, for a moment, unto death.”
“That will be you, Anastasia? Are you sure you will be able to do such a thing — really?”
‘Any woman possesses the ability to do it, if only she can compress the Logos into her feelings.”
‘And what about you, Anastasia? Who will help you return to the Earth once more?”
“That I can do for myself I need not bother anyone about it.” “But how shall I recognise you? After all, our lives will be quite different from before.”
“Once you materialise upon the earthly plane, you will become a youngster once again. You will notice a snotty little red-haired girl in the garden next door to yours. Say a kind word to this slightly bow-legged youngster, pay attention to that little maid. After you grow into your teens, you will start to notice pretty girls. Do not be in a hurry to join your destiny to theirs. In the meantime, in the garden next to yours your friend will be growing, too. Her face will be all freckled — she will not appear beautiful yet. At some point you will notice her following you out of the corner of her eye. But do not laugh at her, do not chase her off when she approaches you to draw your attention away from a more mature beautiful woman. Three springs will pass, and the neighbour girl will become a truly beautiful young lass. One day you will look at her and feel yourself aflame with love. And you will be happy with her. And she will be happy, too. And it is my soul that will be living in that happy girl you choose.”
“Thank you for that marvellous dream, Anastasia, my precious storyteller!”
I carefully embraced her by the shoulders and drew her close to me. I wanted to listen to how excitedly her heart was beating, to feel the fragrance of this marvellous woman’s hair — a woman who believes only in good, in eternity. And possibly to grasp hold of, if only like a straw, her incredible dreams. Her words about the future made everything around me seem more and more joyful.
“Maybe what you say, Anastasia, is all just words, but still they are marvellous words, and I feel more joy in my soul when I hear them.”
“The words of a dream can set a tremendous energy in motion. Man creates a future for himself through his dream, through the thoughts he cherishes. Believe me, Vladimir, everything will happen for the two of us exactly as I have described. But you are free in your dream, and you can change anything you like just by speaking different words. Tou are free, you have the liberty, and every Man is a creator for himself.”
“I shall change none of the words, Anastasia, spoken by you. I shall try to believe in them.”
“For not spoiling eternity for the two of us.”
On this splendid sunny day the two of us swam in the sea and sunned ourselves on the deserted seashore. That evening Anastasia took her departure. As usual, she asked me not to see her off. I stood on the balcony and watched as she made her way along the pavement by our building, her head covered with her kerchief, wearing the plainest of clothing and carrying her hand-made cloth bag. She walked along, trying not to stand out among the other pedestrians — this same woman who had created a splendid future for the whole country
And it will definitely come. People will turn her dream into reality and start living in this splendid world themselves.
Before disappearing around the corner, Anastasia paused, turned in my direction and waved. And I waved back in farewell. I could no longer make out her facial features, but I was sure she was smiling. She is always smiling, because she believes in and creates only good. Perhaps it has to be that way I waved back, whispering to myself: Thank you, my dear, sweet Anastasia!