For this and the next post, I'm copying my two stories written in English for my creative writing (short fiction) link-up Write and Link which is open to all writers on my other blog, In the Writer's Closet. I've decided that it'll keep things more straightforward if I publish all of my fiction on this blog. This one was written for Write and Link #2: When Suddenly I Saw.
Story by Natalia Lialina
It was the last day of my short European vacation. The weather had turned blustery. I was walking down the gray stone steps that lead down the embankment to the Vltava River, when suddenly someone patted me lightly on the back. I turned my head and saw an old gypsy woman, wearing ragged clothes. Colorful mismatched layers (as we’d call them these days): a raspberry shirt, a vest with torn lace hanging down freely as fringes, a jacket which has known better days, a tiered long skirt and a couple of brightly patterned scarves – one on her head, another wrapped around her wide hips. Yellow gold earrings, bracelets and rings – such rich yellow gold as is not known or praised much by most of us Westerners. Her face was all wrinkly, her hair was pitch black, but what really drew me in were her eyes – they were stark blue, spooky blue. “I had no idea Gypsies could have blue eyes,” I almost said to her, but didn’t. There was something both appealing and intimidating about her, and I just stared at her face, not able to say a word.
“Give me your hand, child, I see great deal of grief – I could see it from your back,” she said with a thick accent, butchering the words.
As if I were hypnotized, I got my left hand out of my coat pocket and showed it to her, palm up.
“Hmm, I see. Now give me other hand, child.”
In the same strangely-lacking-the-willpower manner, I took my other hand out of my coat pocket and offered it to her.
“I will tell you truth. You want to know?” she asked me rather sternly.
“Everyone wants to know the truth,” I said.
“No. Not everyone wants to know truth. But you want, so I tell you.”
She held my palms in her wrinkly, dry hands, which almost did not feel like a part of someone’s body, as if life was somewhere separate from them, and they were, by a bizarre mistake, attached to her, as if they were nothing but useful tools, connected somehow to her spooky blue eyes and rattling voice. I felt drops of cold sweat going down my spine.
“This hand tell me what supposed to be.”
She squeezed my left hand ever so lightly as she said these words.
“This hand tell what is.”
Now my right hand was slightly pressed. I felt a lump in my throat – I couldn’t swallow and almost couldn’t breathe.
“Breathe,” she said as if she heard the thoughts in my head. “Breathe, child. There is nothing to be afraid of. Whatever happened, already happened. Whatever will happen, will happen. Nothing is scarier than fear.”
I couldn’t make any sense of her words. Suddenly, the earth under my feet started moving, and the sky above my head too. All I heard was my heart beating as fast and loud as a circus drum.
I heard the voice from somewhere far away, a voice that sounded familiar, but I couldn’t say to whom it belonged.
“Breathe,” I repeated.
And I started breathing.
The circus drum got quieter and finally stopped. I was still on my feet -- neither the stone steps leading to the gray water, nor the gray sky above me moved, it all was still. My hands sensed the heat. I felt the flow of blood, but I couldn’t tell whether the flow was in my own body, or in hers. I looked up to see her blue eyes again, and the wrinkles smiled at me.
“I know you suffered from great grief, child. It was not fair. It was not justice. Do not look there. You will not find justice. It is not there.”
My heart dropped into the dark depth of nowhere – outside of my body, outside of this stone embankment, outside of this world.
“Breathe,” she said again.
I started breathing, taking small sips of air into my lungs, breathing them out, then in again, then out, until the sips got bigger and could almost fill all of my lungs.
“Look for kindness. It’s there. You know it, child.”
“But how can I…”
I could not finish the sentence – a flood of tears that weren’t cried in a million years by a million people, a river of unwept tears flowed from me, and I did not know how to stop it, or what to do with it, and it just flowed and flowed, down my cheeks, down my clothes, down the stone steps, down to the river. And the river did not reject them, but embraced them all, and now filled with them, all of them, to the last drop, flowing peacefully to where it flowed.
“Breathe, child,” said the old Gypsy woman, and her voice became warmer.
I did not know Gypsies could be warm. Mama always told me to stay away from them. A gypsy once asked her for money in exchange for telling mama her destiny. With all her child’s will, she shook her little head decisively, saying that she had no money. On the way to a store, she squeezed as tightly as she could the little pocket money that she had been saving for almost a year to buy a new doll. The Gypsy snorted and turned her back. Little mama could barely hear the woman say, “You will die when you turn fourteen”.
For the longest four years, little mama waited for her fourteenth birthday, as a convict waits for his execution day. Then she turned fifteen. Then she graduated from school. Then she met my dad. Then they got married. Then she buried her own mama. Then she had me. Then my little sister. All sorts of events happened in mama’s life after she turned fourteen. She experienced life to the full, and like all mamas do, she readily shared what she learned about it with my sister and me. One of the things she taught us was to beware of gypsies. I never thought twice about it. Of course, I would never trust them, if they could be so cruel to the little mama. But suddenly now I saw mama’s life as an unexpected gift given to her after she turned fourteen. One life was before that mark, a life full of fear and anger at the gypsy, or maybe at fate itself. What the gypsy did was not fair. It was not justified. But at that dreaded mark, that life was finished, and a new one began. A life free of fear, a life filled with surprises, challenges, laughter, tears, like so many lives are. And like many lives, it was also filled with love.
“I see love, child,” said the old Gypsy pointing in my palm, as if she was reading my mind.
I looked in her eyes and saw the sky in them – the way we see clouds reflecting in windows on a clear day.
May 29, 2015