The last day
The day was creeping to an end. Children were playing at the playground and their mothers laughingly nibbling sunflower seeds, gossiping about their husbands, who rested from the hard daily work by a small evening glass of vodka.
The sun was guiltily lurking behind the horizon, shading pink patches of light on dashing spindrift clouds. This almost idyllic picture was disturbed by a rather odd-looking man who came out from the entrance into the courtyard.
It was nearly June, but the man was dressed in a warm cashmere coat of piercing black colour. Once this coat must have been expensive, but now it was only a faded shadow of its former luxury, shining in the sun with glittering sides and moth-eaten here and there. The man was skinny, so terribly skinny. Even his three-day old stubble could not hide his hollow cheeks. He had not gone out for a long time, and even the night light blinded him.
Hardly had he taken a step, as a carefree expression on the faces of moms from the playground was replaced with the look, full of anxiety. Who is he, this man? What does he need in their backyard? Why is he wearing a coat? Perhaps he is a maniac or flasher, who walks down the street at night and scares passers-by. Quickly grabbing the hands of children, mothers started to leave, hastily.
The man did not notice what impression he made on people around him. He went out for a walk.
Something told him that today was his last day, and he wanted to live it as magnificently as he could.
Nobody and nothing were allowed to disturb his peace, neither builders, who crashed walls of the adjoining apartment for euro design, nor even the package with a loud name, lying in the corridor like a dead weight.
The envelope came today.
He almost for sure knew what was in it and did not want to open it. Let this envelope be opened tomorrow, whosoever finds it. Today is his day, and such it will remain forever.
The man walked into the street, causing passers-by to shudder. Probably, he made an impression of a starving man, reeling in the gusts of wind. As soon as he stopped and dreamily surveyed the park, he was approached by an elderly hunched woman, who hurriedly foisted a loaf of bread into his hand.
“Eat, son, you probably are so badly out of money”.
Money really has been almost gone, but what difference did it make now? It would have been important ten years ago, when he, having lost his job, believed that it was the end of his life. No, the God’s will was, that then it would not be the moment when it ended.
And also not then, when his friend betrayed him, having taken away his wife. And not even then, when his beloved Volkswagen was hijacked.
His life ended on a rather dull winter day, when severe frost ironically painted whimsical patterns on buses windows. Cough had not been going away for so awfully long. Which was not surprising, because he so shamelessly smoked.
He loved that process. You thoughtfully inhale the cigarette smoke and look into the eyes of your interlocutor. And then slowly exhale the fume to you feet. Or quickly and right to your vis-a-vis. But what difference does it make now?
– Do you have any relatives? – started the doctor in a sepulchral voice.
– Errr…do you have a wife or children? No..no children. Do you have parents?
– No…my parents died, my wife left, and we have no children. I am alone.
– I’m sorry, but you have cancer.
His life ended then.
No, physically he still lived. He was eating something, drinking something, lived somewhere, but he could not care less about all that. He did not feel the taste of food; no longer did he feel the taste of life.
He spent almost all his money on expensive treatments in one of the best clinics in Switzerland, but it was all in vain. Now he had only one lung and not a single chance to live. They let him go home, asking him to write the will and quickly put things in order.
Almost no strength has remained. Besides, he was coughing badly and freezing all the time.
Well, enough of that. Sad thoughts had far too long spun in his head. Too much energy he had spent on that fight. Too many tears he had shed in his empty apartment, torturing himself with the question ‘Why’? Why him? For what? For what sins?
No, today he will just live a happy day and if tomorrow still comes, then come what may.
His former friend, when leaving, said that he would finish his life in loneliness, because he did not like people. Perhaps some of that was true, because in his heart he despised them.
He almost ground his teeth, annoyed that so many people did not want anything more from life than stuffing their bellies with sunflower seeds and filling their stomach with gallons of beer, and sit on the bench in the park, wasting away their dull, faded and predictable life. He had always strove to get ahead, both in school and at home, and even among his friends.
None of his friends knew five languages, and he did. None of his friends have seen so many countries, and he has. However, being in this fascinating process, he did not notice that one day self-improvement turned into a commonplace pursuit for just another artefact: visiting countries was more of ostentation for the sake of incinerating glances of friends, enviously looking at his photos in the album and secretly wishing him all the misfortunes.
Now he just walked by. He smelled a sweet delicate scent of sycamore. He had always believed that the tree did not grow in the Central part of the country, but he had probably just never noticed.
Breathing in as deeply as he could in his condition, he mentally rewound the time to five years ago, to the sunny and incredibly hospitable Greece. Once right in the middle of a square he saw an old tree, exuding the same exquisitely luscious scent.
The tree was so tall that it occupied practically the entire area. He recalled that he ripped a small leave and put it into his book. Where is it now, he wondered?
The next artefacts on his way were a few larches that friendly stationed themselves at the park entrance. Passing along the trees, he inhaled conifer scent. To his surprise, he was not twisted with stifling cough, as it was usual. Neither now, nor when he had admired the sycamore.
Perhaps the smell alone of these wonderful trees positively affected him, blunting vigilance of cells, gaining more and more space inside of him. He recalled warm Croatian night, murmur of the sea and velvet branches of pines, sloping down to the sea.
Again and again he had recollected the smell of pine, the carpet of needles under his feet and numerous fir cones, trying now and then to turn his walk into balancing on an imaginary rope.
Nearby construction workers piled a heap of snow-white sand. Where on earth did they find it? However, the middle-aged man dressed in a warm coat, did not see them. In front of his eyes stretched boundless surface of the ocean, he heard whispers of the Dominican palms. Only now he has realised how treasured was every tiny fragment, every small detail of his trips which he had just gathered for collection.
He passed a few cafes. “Real Turkeesh coffyaa!”, was reading advertising pillar, placed right in the middle of the road. Earlier, he would have become outraged by the level of literacy of restaurant owners, but now he just sadly sighed. What difference does it make how they write “Turkish” or “Coffee” in paradise?
For a moment, the taste of freshly brewed coffee that he once tried in Istanbul reappeared in his mouth. A minute later, the aroma changed with a bitter taste of regret.
Ahead an old man walked. He was wearing a faded black T-shirt with “Bangkok” inscribed on it. Perhaps someone of his grandchildren brought it.
He wondered if it rained there now as was at the time he was there, a middle-aged man in the black greasy coat.
More than anything he wanted to live up to the moment when his own grandchildren would bring him souvenirs.
“Liberty, come to me!”, he heard the voice and shuddered. Someone was calling the dog. Once he was incredibly surprised to learn, that there was a place for visitors in the crown of the Statue of Liberty in New York. Not often you can see monuments, where you can simply climb.
In that manner he stranded, like ancient beads handling in his mind his most precious treasures: his memories. He was so reluctant to part with all that.
He knew that if life gives him just one more opportunity or a tiny crumb of a chance to go somewhere again, he will never treat it so offhandedly. He will send to hell all these friends and all those photo albums. All what he will do, will be to absorb every moment. You never know how many breaths you will have and how yet many moments you will witness. He should not have wasted them so foolishly.
He came to the house almost automatically. There, a familiar playground. Again mothers started to get nervous. That time he noticed it. He sighed and already headed for the door, when he heard a piercing scream of brakes and a heart wrenching cry of some woman.
In slow motion he turned and saw a little boy, having jumped onto the road for a beautiful beach ball that seemed unnaturally bright on the gray road. In a fraction of the second the man in the coat flew out to the road like a bullet.
At the supreme moment he managed to shove the kid off the road into a ditch. And then everything blackened.
“Doctor, he opened his eyes,” he heard somewhere very far away.
Light hurt his eyes. He felt terrible nausea. After some time he was able to discern people and objects around him. Sometime later, he was able to speak.
– Try not to talk much.
– What happened to me?
– You will live. You have three broken ribs and a moderate brain concussion.
– You say I will live? Doctor, you are probably kidding. Or skipped a few lectures at the university? I have terminal cancer, and what I will certainly not do, is to live.
– Young man, do you remember your name? Do you remember what day it is today?
– My name is Valentin, today is the sixteenth of May. Why are you asking?
– I want to make sure that your memory and perception are all right. That you are not in a state of shock and do not take yourself for someone else.
– What does all that mean?
– When you were brought here, I thoroughly examined you to prevent possible internal bleeding. Yes you have one lung, but it does not mean that you will not live.
– And what about the tumor?
– What tumor? There is nothing there. Do not fool me.
Two weeks later, the middle-aged man came home. He had forgotten the coat in the hospital, but he absolutely did not feel like coming back for it.
It was the first of June and was not so really cold. On a shoe cabinet was the thick envelope. It contained the results of his previous examinations. Despite the verdict of Swiss doctors, he would never cease to hope and continued treatment. He knew that if he had at least one small chance, he would not mess it up.
With trembling hands he tore open the envelope. There he found numerous test results supplemented by a short statement, saying in a very dry manner, that no signs of the disease were found.
Moscow, June 2011