Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Little Seagull With The Big Earthworm, by Veronika Opatrilova

The Little Seagull With The Big Earthworm

         Short story about a fight for not coming back and about a return to fight


She’s coming back on Wednesday. She doesn’t even know that it’s Wednesday, it doesn’t really matter to her now. She has her violet little suitcase with her, it’s so heavy that she had to ask the tall blond man in the compartment to lift it for her, “could you, please” and he rises from his seat, placing the suitcase above his head “what do you have in it, a dead body?” and she smiles back at him, shrugging her shoulders.
They won’t speak more that journey. And they will never meet again.
She’s coming back in August and she thinks how funny, it was August as well, when she left. She doesn’t notice but the sky is grey, heavy rainy clouds cover the sky above Brno when she’s coming back. If she knew, she would say how symbolic it is. Even the sky is crying.
She is the last to leave the compartment. She’s still sitting, staring out of the window when the others quickly put their raincoats on and the tall blond man says “goodbye” but she doesn’t hear him.
She has to take the heavy suitcase down herself. Books, mostly books, she murmurs for herself, answering the man’s question too late, in the empty compartment of the old train.
How’s that possible the trains never change, she thinks. It feels like coming back to her own mausoleum. Nothing’s changed. The dirty seats. How the train stopped in the middle of nowhere and they had to wait for ages, nobody said anything, they all just sat there, pretending it was normal, passive and angry and she wanted to cry but then again the compartment was full and so were the aisles.
She gets off the train at 15.32, she’s an hour late, but he said it doesn’t matter.
“It’s ok, I live nearby”
When she pulls the little violet suitcase alongside the train, on the dirty pavement of the main train station, she doesn’t know it’s not forever. It certainly feels like that. Everything looks the same. Even the homeless man cursing in the main entrance hall looks familiar. She doesn’t think much, she just acts. Minute after minute. Baby steps, they said to each other. “All we have is now.” So she goes and sees the trams, hears the honking of the vehicles, they wanted to rebuild the station, she realizes. That was when she had left. But nothing has changed. If she only could skip this place the arrival wouldn’t be so terrible. She is not sure, of course, but she can at least think so.
She’s looking for a taxi. It’s because of that little suitcase and because of the overcrowded trams she looks for it. The first taxi driver tells her that he’s not taking her, the address she gave him “it’s too close”.
“Do you have something better to do?” she asks him and he chews his gum, looking arrogant. It’s not until she approaches the third car that the driver takes her into mercy.
“What else can I do?”
She’s sitting at the back seat of the car. This is her first moment back in the city. This is the very beginning. She has just landed at the airport, then took the train straight from Prague, it was this morning, how impossible! she realizes, she was still in Stockholm, all the familiar streets, all the houses, the whole reality, all around her, she certainly bought a coffee somewhere, at the train station? Was it at the airport? Or at the newspaper stand close to the underground? Where was it where she had her last coffee? Where was it, that moment when all she knew stepped out of the picture and became the past?
“Why did you come back for god’s sake?” the driver asks. She doesn’t know yet, but they all will be asking, she would sense the tone, she will learn to recognize it. And she will always answer with a timid smile.
This is the first moment of the new story. She at the back seat of a taxi, the driver talking about immigrants. He says “I am a racist, I admit that.” And she will always remember that moment as a breaking point. From now on, this is her reality. She won’t answer. She looks out of the taxi window, yellow buses, the theatre, the Moravian square conserved like a picture that will never change.
“Why do you hate Brno so much?” her mother asked. “It’s a beautiful city!” and she was incapable of finding a reason.
She doesn’t hate Brno. She just doesn’t want to live there. And it is the poem she once read in one clever book, “you won´t find a new country, won´t find another shore. This city will always pursue you. You will walk the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods, will turn gray in these same houses.” Those are the exact words she thinks of when she is coming back on Wednesday in August.
What a coincidence, she thinks but she doesn’t say anything.
The driver leaves her at the street “what a heavy suitcase, what do you have in it, dead bodies?”
“books, just books” and he shrugs his shoulders.
She’s sitting on the little violet suitcase on the street in front of the entrance door to her new home, waiting for the guy to arrive. It was a simple, one-room flat. All that she needs. Close to the hospital. When she won’t be able to walk home, she can always take the bus. The stop is just around the corner. She plans ahead. For the first time in her life. She plans ahead when the future is unknown.
She’s entering the flat at 16.05 but she doesn’t pay any attention to time. There’s no bed and the carpet is dirty, but there, behind the window, there is a wonderful balcony, she points at that direction “what a luxury” she says and the guy smiles, there’s a couch to sit on when the weather is nice.
And she’s happy.
She does not know, but she will make her own little paradise from this grey place. “It’s after our grandfather,” the guy said and she would ask her father to paint the walls yellow, because yellow, that’s the colour of changes, she would buy a new carpet and an orange couch at IKEA and she would print all those pictures, place them at the mirror, she will put on the yellow walls. She will smile at herself, that previous version of her, she does not know yet, but she would not recognize herself at those pictures, four months from now, she would think she’s wearing a fake hair “could it be me” she would ask in front of the mirror and her new friend would say “with hair you looked like a sex bomb”.
Her own little paradise. With a cat. And a bath. All that she ever wanted. And when she closes her eyes, the flat might as well be at Södermalm, who knows, the sounds from the street, the window reflecting the sun, it might as well be like that.
So she closes her eyes.
“You will be happy here,” the guy says and then they shake their hands and he asks, why did you come back and she smiles timidly.
She’s sitting on the balcony and if she only cared she would notice the sky is brighter, it won’t rain after all and when she brings her cup of black tea with honey to drink, the sun will peek out and if she only cared she could think how beautiful the day turned out to be.
A few nights she will be sleeping on the floor and it all will be so comical and horrible after her first treatment, vomiting on the floor, but she’s strong. She’s scared, that little girl, she thinks she knows everything about life, but she’s at the begging, not the end. She will buy that orange couch and sixteen little mirrors, she will put them on the wall and white curtains with flowers and her table lamp that means home to her.
She had a big green suitcase when she was leaving Brno, it was Monday, she remembers, it was August. And the table lamp was in that big green suitcase, it was so light, “do you even pack anything” would her mother ask and she won’t need help with the suitcase at all.
She’s leaving Brno and she doesn’t know it’s not forever. She doesn’t want to come back, she has big dreams and plans, she leaves the heavy packed trams, the long shopping street, the grey university building at that flat close to the lake, she leaves that all behind, she doesn’t care about it but she doesn’t know she should. It will come back to her, she’s scared when the poem springs in her mind but then she waves it away and looks ahead.
How silly she doesn’t know she carries her city within herself. She’s a part of it. She carries it with her. And until she deals with it, it will find the way to bring her back.
Then it will let her go.
She’s coming back on Wednesday. It’s August. It’s the exact day four years after she left. She knows why she came back. Before she goes to sleep that day she thinks of what she saw while waiting for the ferry to take her from her island that very same morning.
There were three blackbirds chasing the little seagull. They were fighting for a big earthworm. She was looking at the sky. “What a fight” said the woman with a bike, “will it make it?”
She’s thinking of the scene before she falls asleep. The yellow ferry arrived and she got on board. She couldn’t care less so she didn’t notice the seagull flying away. She didn’t notice the three big blackbirds gave up.
She didn’t see the little seagull with the big earthworm.

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