Cows over Vitebsk by Marc Chagall. 1966 (source)
Because Everyone Knows
Short story by Natalia Lialina
Nadya stepped forward to shield her little daughter from too nosy people. If you looked closely, you’d probably notice a worried look in her blue eyes – blue blue, not baby blue, not powder blue, not grayish blue, but the purest blue blue color that you’ve ever seen. They say most babies are born with blue eyes, but then in the first few months of their life they change the color. Not only did Nadya’s eyes not change color, but they deepened into that purest shade of blue. And so did Nadya’s child’s eyes. People often would stop Nadya to compliment her child’s eyes. Nadya got used to it, it was just something they would experience since her daughter learned how to walk and talk – simultaneously. Nadya was so proud of her daughter – she was pretty, she was smart, she had a kind and compassionate little heart and a cheery nature. Until one day…
“No, that’s not what happened,” Nadya thought to herself. ”It just can’t be.”
She decided that it was a mirage, a distorted vision – after all, she did not sleep a few days in a row because of the conflict at the school where she worked. That must be it, her insomnia that caused her this strange vision. She was anxious, she did not have enough sleep, and that was that.
The hard situation at worked passed as a storm, everything seemed fine again, Nadya was getting regular sleep and did not have much to worry about, and then she noticed it again. That is when she decided to make a doctor appointment.
“So what exactly bothers you, sweetie?”
The doctor was an elderly man with hair as white as snow, a thick mustache, an attentive look from under his glasses, gentle hands and a calming voice.
“That, doctor. That bothers me. It worries me sick.”
“Oh, that? And why does it worry you so much?”
“Well, you know, because it just not right. There is something wrong with her. It worries me.”
“Why do you think there is something wrong?”
“Well, of course there is, I just know it.”
“Because I know… because everyone knows… Kids don’t fly. People don’t fly.”
“Everyone knows, you say?” the doctor repeated. “Well, not me. It happens. Not too often, but it happens.”
“What? What are you saying? Did you actually meet anyone who can fly?”
“No, I didn’t, not exactly,” said the doctor modestly, as he dried his hands with a clean hand towel and headed back to his desk.
And Nadya noticed him walking above the floor, sort of floating, really, just a little bit. She closed her eyes tight and shook her head.
“It’s insane. I’m going mad,” she thought to herself and left the doctor’s office.
That visit did not satisfy Nadya and did not make her worries disappear, even though she told herself that he was a doctor, one of the most respected doctors in their area, and that there was really nobody who had as many years of experience and whom Nadya could trust in such a delicate matter.
Her little daughter was growing, she started school and was still pretty and smart, but Nadya noticed that she started getting a lonely look in her pure blue eyes as Nadya, worrying so much about her, stopped letting her out to play with other kids, and did not approve of her taking after-school art classes.
“What if someone notices it? What if something terrible happens? I’d never forgive myself,” she thought.
And who are we to judge her for that – a mother’s heart is a powerful, but at the same time fragile muscle.
One of those especially difficult days when Nadya caught her daughter flying in their small apartment on the sixth floor, she gathered all her strength and all her little savings and bought two tickets to Moscow. For a while now, she was saving to buy herself a new winter coat – her old one started looking like a ragged cloths more than a coat, and a teacher’s salary was not enough to pay for the apartment and electricity, buy food for herself and her daughter, help her younger sister to get through college, and buy a new winter coat. So she put a little money aside each month, as little as she could spare, into a carved wooden box which she kept under her bed. By now it was nearly enough to buy a new coat for the upcoming cold season. Or enough to buy two airplane tickets – an adult’s ticket and a kid’s one – to Moscow. There are better doctors in Moscow. Nadya couldn’t sleep well the night before the trip, and her eyes gained an even deeper shade of blue from all the worries and sleeplessness.
The doctor’s office in Moscow was overflowed with parents who brought their little kids from all over the country. Every adult had a worried look on their face. Every kid had a trace of loneliness on theirs.
“What’s your trouble?” asked a woman sitting next to Nadya.
Nadya did not know what to answer. How to open her most sacred thoughts to someone she did not even know? While Nadya was getting her thoughts together, the woman went forward.
“Mine thinks he has the ability to go through the walls,” she said, pointing at her son, who was sitting on the opposite side of the busy waiting room rather quietly, with a focused look on his face.
“It’s just nuts, isn’t it?” the mother asked Nadya, without expecting her to answer.
“What the doctors say?”
“What do they know? In our small town, nobody knows anything.”
Nadya felt sorry for those unknown doctors who probably did their job as best they could, but the determined mother refused to give them any credit. It made her think of the old doctor. Wasn’t Nadya such an unthankful and overly worrying parent herself, ignoring the old doctor’s advice and bringing her daughter to a fancy Moscow clinic?
“Frankly, I don’t know if these doctors are any better,” said the mother of walking-through-walls boy. “But if these don’t know, then we just don’t have any hope, do we?”
Nadya flinched. As much as she worried about her daughter’s weird condition, she would never allow herself to think that there was no hope. What does it mean “there is no hope” anyway? There always, always should be hope, otherwise there is no point in this at all. Nadya’s whole life was under the sign of hope. Nadya’s full name was “hope”. (*) Nadya’s whole being was hope.
Lost in her thoughts, she did not notice when the mother and son disappeared into the doctor’s office. Was it their turn, and the plump nurse called their last name out loud, or the son took his mother and walked through the walls with her? Nadya couldn’t tell.
Finally, after a few longest hours of waiting for their name to be called in a waiting room full of more or less hopeless people from all different corners of the vast country, her daughter said,
“Mom, it really doesn’t make any sense. You worry about nothing.”
“Nadya Ivanova?” asked the stout nurse, and her face did not say “hopeful” either.
Why does everyone she knows back home think that Muscovites are somehow very different from people in their town? Nadya saw all sorts of people in the last couple of days they were in Moscow – they were short and tall, thin and chubby, happy and sad, shy and loud, much like the people she meets in the middle of nowhere.
“Mom, it’s our turn.”
“Huh? Yes, yes, it’s our turn, let’s go.”
The doctor was a lady in her early thirties, not much older than Nadya. What does she know? She is probably just fresh out of college. Nadya’s mind started racing with questions.
The lady doctor greeted them in a friendly manner, with a warm smile, tucking her stubborn thick hair back into a bun with a quick and precise hand motion.
“I understand your concern,” she kept repeating, listening to Nadya’s story.
“Well, have you ever met someone who can fly, or even just float, in your practice?”
“Not really, no.”
“That’s just what the old doctor said,” thought Nadya and her heart sunk.
Her daughter was sitting there on the wooden chair, swaying her legs and looking through the open window. It was early fall, and the weather was still pleasant. The trees barely started turning yellow and orange, and some of them red. Not too many red leaf trees in her small town. Mostly birch trees that Russian poets whose poems they have to read in school describe as golden when they change color. Here, in Moscow, they saw foliage of many colors – yellow, or golden, red, orange and even purplish and pinkish. Suddenly she saw that little boy whose mother had such an unpleasant expression on her face, as if she had just bitten into a sour lemon. The boy was walking outside of the tall clinic building, carefully trying to avoid puddles. But just as all boys and girls, eventually he couldn’t resist the temptation to step into one, and his mom pulled his hand impatiently and probably said, “Just how many times do I have to tell you,” or “Now there is dirt all over you,” or something else very sensible, just what adults usually say when they feel annoyed with kids.
“Walk,” she suddenly heard.
Both the pretty lady doctor and Nadya looked at her with their eyes wide open. They are grown-ups, they should know that she doesn’t do it on purpose. It’s not to worry her mom or anything like that. She just can’t help it.
She got up from her chair and started walking back and forth in the office with overgrown spider plants and shelves filled with books and folders.
“I don’t notice anything,” said the lady doctor.
“Yes, I don’t always notice it myself,” said Nadya.
“Hmm. And you say your doctor is aware of such curious cases?”
Nadya couldn’t bring herself to say that the doctor probably needed medicine himself. He’s an old man. Maybe he forgets things. Maybe he imagines things. She was not sure what to think.
“He said that it happens, not very often, but happens.”
The lady doctor said “hmm” again and started writing something in the open notebook in front of her. Her handwriting was more reminiscent of Chinese characters than the letters and words that Nadya could read.
Once the lady doctor finished writing, she put her pen down and told Nadya without any particular expression on her pretty face,
“I don’t see a big danger. I’ll prescribe you some vitamins and minerals, and I also advise you to do exercises and get a massage course. Please monitor your child and come again in a year for a consultation.”
Nadya left the building and sipped the fresh air. The street noises surrounded her. Cars, busses, trollies, pedestrians were all mixed together in one colorful picture of typical Moscow everyday life. The street was buzzing with all sorts of city sounds and smelling with all sorts of city smells, some of them were hard to identify. Leaves on the trees were different shades of yellow, red, orange and even purplish and pinkish. Nadya looked at her daughter, took her hand and smiled.
Mother and daughter, holding hands, jumped over a big puddle in front of the concrete staircase leading from the clinic to the outside world. And to a perfect stranger who was watching them from the other side of the busy street, it seemed they hung in the air a little longer than humanly possible. But maybe it was only a leap of his imagination. After all, everyone knows…
August 12, 2015
(*) Nadya is a short form of Nadezhda which means “hope” in Russian.
The story is linked to Write and Link