Until you forget me…
Story donated to public to commemorate the decade of the tragic events that took place on 26.12.04 in the South-East Asia.
Originally written in September 2013 by the Russian writer Elena Meysak and published in the compliation ‘Держись за жизнь, она коротка’. Translated into English by the author.
Dates of all events changed at the request of the author.
All names and events are fictional. Any perceived coincidence is accidental.
It was December.
Blizzard covered multimillion megalopolis, dragging along the snow-drifted road a sparkling snowflake-made tail. One twinkling the magic veil went up, another it waltzed, shaping into intricate little tubes of snow, whirling on the road.
A lonely man in brownish sheepskin coat was standing on the edge of the ravine in some faded suburb, looking at the city that stretched itself in front of him. His stern face was sullenly thoughtful. In his hands the man held a crumpled notebook page.
As if he wrote a flaming speech for someone, but not being able to say all, that wounded his soul, he came here, for his dress-rehearsal. His strong, masculine hand had a little tremor. Today was the twenty-fourth of December. Eight years since…
Out of his chest went a heavy sigh. He unfolded the letter and started to read it aloud:
‘My dearest and beloved Alberta!
Yesterday your daughter turned fifteen. You cannot imagine how she has changed during the summer.
She is already taller than you. Yesterday as usual I came to your house and saw her, going out from the house entrance with girls. For a moment my eyes met hers. And it was as if I saw you again. The same face, the same gestures, even the smile is yours. The only thing that was not the same, was a cautious frown of her eyes, those somewhat familiar eyes, but still, not yours.
Will you be able to forgive one day that despicable coward, who, as it happened, had loved you almost all your life? Personally, I can’t. And probably never will.
Today is the twenty-fourth of December. The New Year’s Eve. The Eve of joy, gifts and laughter. And only for me it has long time been the Eve of sorrow and reflections.
What would have been our life back then, sixteen years ago, had I not turned out to be the one that you got to know later? How everything would have looked, should I have found courage to see you home thousands years ago?
Do you know, that today I was sorting my morning mail in the computer and I got a letter, where I read that if you looked at a woman for too long, you might well see her getting married?
Why this accursed letter reached me only today, and not twenty years ago, when I first saw you? Ah, yes, we didn’t have computers then. Otherwise I would have known for sure.
Do you remember how funny we looked at school in those silly look-alike shirts that were bought in the shop next door that resembled pajamas? How we secretly smoked behind the bus stop? How I took you on a bicycle ride in the neighboring yard? Do you remember how we bedeviled our shoes, dashing along frozen November puddles on cold dark nights? How we were throwing snowballs to each other?
Until you forget me, I feel that I live. But even if not, then in my evermore hardened heart will always live that girl, who I invited for a dance once.
Lord, what a fool I was then! I knew, had always known, that you liked me, but I was afraid to even give you a hint that I want to be seeing you. To come to your house and drink tea with jam, that, probably, your mother would give us. To stroke your funny red-haired cat with fluffy tail. To read Blok and Balmont with you and to listen to ‘Kino’.
For me you were almost Goddess, and it was difficult to put into words how I was afraid, back then, that should I have told you something, not as due and not when due, the thin crystal of our friendship would crack, as cold glass in a hot furnace.
And I remained just a shadow, a speechless shadow, dragging behind you, but not able to say a word from what you wanted to hear. Oftentimes I caught your look on my face, in your eyes I read a plea, then a mute reprimand, then a question that was never asked.
One day we got school leave certificates and were scattered around different places. You went to the university and I joined the army. How can I forget that kiss that you, blushing, printed on my lips on the day that was doomed to have become the last day of our friendship?
Could I have known back then, that I would come back from the army right to the day of your wedding with some oddly looking new Russian, wearing an even more oddly looking jacket? Even now I think that if, earlier, I had had the courage and told you that I loved you, then, who knows, maybe there would have been none of it all.
No obese nouveau riche beside you, no vulgar cars, no roaring neighbours and white bridal veil, which would not to be raised by me.
You don’t know how I hated myself then. Could not forgive myself for letting you go. Could not forget, what jerk I was. How, sitting amidst the bottles of vodka, I drank and wailed, wailed of pain and despair. My soul was cut by the fragments of shattered hopes, scratched by the wire of the harsh reality, crushed down by the slab of my hardly started grown up life.
I almost hardly remember how proposed to someone of your now former friends, how soon we got married and had children. And then my life spun and whirled, and years passed almost as one day, day, that looked exactly like any other day.
But earlier you had moved to another district and I, as if obeying some invisible force, was obsessively hanging around your house almost every week.
First I was freezing under the old oak by your window, then nervously smoking in the car without lights.
I knew, that as long as I am near, you will not forget me. And until your forget me, I live and I hope, though I don’t know for what.
As little as one month had passed since the day of your wedding, and you quarreled with your new Russian husband. In tears you ran out of your house and at that moment it was me who didn’t last.
Out of my shelter I rushed, as if burnt, not thinking of consequences. Grabbed you, caught a car and brought you to my home. And would not let you out of my arms, finding pleasure in the fragrance of your hair, the taste of your lips, in the warmth of your embrace.
And then you said that it all was a mistake and we ought to forget what happened.
Well…forget than forget… and so be it. And this is what I did for the following seven years, having graduated from the university and becoming a geologist, travelling from one god forsaken place to another, where I was eaten by mosquitoes and flies in those rarest moments when I could sit down and ruminate about life. Seven years passed as if cut.
Once I met you almost near my house. It happened so that you got divorced from a new Russian, that you have a beautiful daughter Nadushka, a smart little imp with big bows.
It is impossible to explain by any logic on earth, but we got together again. Now, when I have a wife and children, I feel ashamed even to think about it, but the warmth of your embrace again and again resurrected my soul and broke the concrete solid wall that grew around my heart. I could not leave you for a split second, it was just beyond me.
You said you were going to Thailand for New Year. You seemed to have also said that you had some shops somewhere in the centre. That the granny would look after Nadushka. And also, that your friend had not been granted leave and would not be able to go with you. Why… God why didn’t I persuade you to stay? No, instead I persuaded you, that we would go together.
I will remember that day for the rest of my life. 22 December 2004. As vividly as now I remember, how magical seemed the ordinary snow, with fluffy flakes falling from somewhere high in the sky. And how I wanted to stick out my tongue as in the childhood and catch the snowflakes.
I remember how I sat in the taxi and went to the airport and how, almost reaching it, I took out my wallet and saw in the transparent pocket the picture of my wife and daughters. I could not forgive myself for what a goat I had been to you. But to be a goat to them was just beyond my strength.
Biting the lip and clenching my hand into a fist in my pocket, I asked the driver to take me back home.
And two days after the heavy ax of the news fell onto my head. About that monstrous tsunami that took away lives of hundreds thousands of peaceful innocent people. And yours too. More precisely, you are in the list of missing people. And already five years as I want that you would have survived.
Sometimes I conjure up that you lost memory and live in some unknown Thai village. But more often I see you in the paradise beach, for some reason collecting the shells from the bottom of the grinning ocean, leaving bare the bottoms of wooden boats, and in just a few minutes transforming the island into the hearth of hell.
As distinctly as now I see how you try to run, not understanding well what is happening, and why the water, that only half an hour ago was azure and peaceful, is now running on you in a roaring flow, splitting into flinders houses and palm trees, devouring into its hungry devilish belly people and cars.
And after all this into my consciousness comes a black, crushing pause. As if someone switched the iron lung off.
And today is again the twenty-fourth of December. Another New Year’s Eve and another year without you. You know, in the morning I could not get rid of a weird thought. Then I got to the mirror and frowned the eyes exactly like your daughter did yesterday. And then it felt as if I had a high voltage blow. Why… God why didn’t you tell me before?!
All those fifteen years I didn’t know that Nadushka is my daughter too. But who will know now. Maybe you were going to tell me in Thailand. During one of our romantic dinners. The one that would have become my last dinner too, had I not been accidentally such a coward.
I know there cannot be a single doubt. Resemblance is not only in the eyes, but in all dates too. And this in some strange way lets me know, that you have not forgotten me. And until you forget me, my life doesn’t end.’
With this being said, the man flicked off unobserved tears, took a lighter from his pocket and held the flame close to the paper, that merged in colour with the snowy carpet. With a fixed gaze he looked at his life story being ablaze, that will always remain a part of himself. In a few seconds the letter became ashes.
Having waited just a little bit more, casting a glance on the city, the man in a brown sheepskin coat turned away and wandered back.