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Part 1. Anna
Book translation — the publisher ID RiS Literary name. I want to say thanks to the editors and translators.
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
2010 Russia. Krasnoyarsk Region
From 8.20 to noon.
Siberian summer morning on the bank of the river in those lands where I grew up and had a carefree time, was especially sunny that day. Sitting on the grass, wet with dew, pressing my knees to my chest and staring into the distance, I was saying goodbye in my mind’s eye. Painfully familiar, frozen in the beauty of nature, the view seemed to be new and exciting. I was watching the slow stream course, along the steep banks framed with endless coniferous forest, rocking in the wind. It went beyond the horizon, and the tops of centuries-old trees mingled, forming the green boundary line, separating the earth from the sky.
I took a deep breath of the cool, refreshingly clean air, which was saturated with pine needles and slight savor of the swamp dampness that came from the reeds growing under the cliffs. At night they turned into an improvised scene for frogs and grasshoppers, and these small representatives of the fauna sang in sync so loudly and annoyingly that I wanted to get my father’s gun from the utility room and shoot them all. I wish had known how to shoot a gun.
— Well, Anna, are you ready to go? — My mom asked timidly, standing a little bit away from me and waiting. She distracted me from contemplating the beauty of nature, disrupting the order of the farewell.
My mother is kind to everyone, too kind. She has lived most of her life, caring more often of her errant husband and children than about herself. She had two children, me and my elder brother. By the time of my departure he had already managed to start a family for the second time.
By the way, about my brother. When I looked at him, the thought involuntarily sneaked into my head that everything should be the other way around: I wish we could change places — and here it is, the ideal of a brother and sister. Brother weak and sentimenta — qualities more appropriate for women, — unlike me, who was driven by madness, “relative devil-may-care attitude” (it shouldn’t be confused with indifference), the eternal desire to make my case in the fight against injustice and gain my point, which is usually characteristic of men with a strong will power. Though, these traits of my character manifested themselves only when I entered the adolescence, when the familiar world turned upside down. Having grown up, I could afford to make fun of my brother, forgetting that he was older and — as it should be — smarter. He did not take offense and was not impertinent to me, he did not know how to be impudent.
Mom took my hand, and we headed to the sixth model of “Zhiguli” in white, parked near the crooked lath fence.
My father was waiting for us in the car, thoroughly checking the contents of the glove compartment, trying to see if he had forgotten anything. Without a doubt, he could be called “the one who is fancy to forget the most needed things.” What clouds he had his head in, was known only to himself, and it was from him that I unconsciously adopted this quality.
That morning, I looked back at the green forests spread out across the river, swept my eyes over the old wooden house full of memories, with blue shutters and a pointed tiled roof and got into the car.
In about six hours we would have reached the international airport of Krasnoyarsk, where the passenger Boeing would take me thousands of kilometers away from my routine life.
I know that long journeys lie heavy on my mom. She was sitting in the front seat and on the way to the airport she was thinking how to get back to her blossoming garden as quickly as possible.
“Have I put enough fertilizer in the dill bed?” She was wondering in her thoughts. And later she recalled about carrots and radishes as well; their weeding then had to be postponed.
Yes, I knew her thoughts, as well as the thoughts of many other people who I spoke to. Soon I will tell you how I did it.
When the sunset notified her about the completion of work in the vegetable garden, she went to the little garden with the bushes of currant, honeysuckle, gooseberries, sea buckthorns (it seems to me that there grew even some perennial shrubs I don’t remember exactly), and gathering part of the crop in a large iron mug, under the rays of the Siberian sunset, she enjoyed the taste of her own homegrown berries.
With unabashed pride my father not only thought, but also spoke about his night take, falling silent from time to time, picturing himself — what he would be like tomorrow — again, having his head in the clouds, known only for him.
— Have you seen what a huge sturgeon I caught at night? — he asked, driving into the highway, passing the town exit, then pressed the gas pedal harder, and the streets of my home town were left behind, remaining in memory for many years. — I managed to salt it up and got it to the fridge, so that it will be ready for tomorrow, and your mom and I will taste it. And there are no sturgeons of this kind in Israel.
He laughed so openly and merrily that time, but, as in most cases, my mother and I did not uphold his laughter, because, actually, he did not say anything funny. He just likes to laugh about some reason and without any (more often without), humming songs and laugh, to say silly toasts and laugh. He comments on the news presenter and laughs. He watches how the smash-hit characters beat one another up to the blood, which is scattered in droplets into all the unthinkable sides — and definitely he will laugh. He tells the same jokes again and again — it is already clear what he is going to do
It surprised me every time when, suddenly, he began to argue with seriousness that was not characteristic of him and could give me a good life advice. But the image of a silly merry fellow was much more likable for him. After all, everyone without exception loved him in this role. Innocent merry fellow, how can you dislike a man like that.
And what about me? Seeing me off to another country, my parents knew about my intention to stay there for a long time, and perhaps forever, in a place that they had no idea about, but still — garden beds and fishing, here they are, their immediate concerns. I did not look back as for my choice, I just did not expect that my closest people would accept it in such a calm way, as if they didn’t need me at all. At the airport, they will say a few parting words, since I am still their child, and then they will hurry back to the old house on the bank of the river, to the place where they have been for so many years, to their native, familiar and beloved place. They have lived the most part of their lives, did their duty, my father has already planted more than one tree, and my mother gave birth to and raised more than one child. It no longer matters if they have done it together or not. The main thing is that everything is done as it should be, according to generally accepted standards.
Leaving for the country of three religions and four seas at the other end of the world, so far from our Siberian backwater, I set my heart on starting from scratch. From the beginning and with full confidence that everything will work out in the best way, because I will not be alone.
Why did my choice fall on Israel? This state opened its borders to all the descendants of the Jews, giving them the opportunity to build it and develop it, providing initial financial aid. Jumping ahead a bit, I should say that the majority of indigenous Israelis do not even know about such a region of Russia as Siberia, many times surpassing their country in area. They generally believe that Russia is supposedly situated in a different world, separated by the border, behind which lie poverty, devastation, eternal frost and girls of incredible beauty, that sometimes can be found in the streets of their native country, causing associations with mercenary girls. That is their stereotype.
Coming back to the story about my past life, I would like to mention a period when there was no understanding of myself as a person with a firm life philosophy.
The period when I considered myself inferior compared to others, drowning in a pile of my own complexes. The surrounding seemed gray and dull. The weather in Siberia most of the days of the year is really nasty, especially in fall and spring, when trees are losing their leaves or, on the contrary, when new buds swell on their branches. Dirty muddy streams flow along the curved fractures of asphalt roads, flooding the sidewalks. The sky becomes leaden and severe. People, the majority of them, walk with sullen faces, angrily, jumping over and walking around puddles. Only young girls wearing bright fashionable clothes diluted the whole picture with colors. They were like colored spots on a gray canvas. These young beauties were always cheerful, they were walking arm in arm with their friends or boyfriends. How much I wanted to be one of them at that time. But I was too unattractive, indecisive and miserable.
I was stuck in the routine monotonous pace of life, when I was in high school no one paid any attention to me, I walked along the corridors of secondary school and ballet school, like a ghost, I was there just because I had to. Unalterably, bell-to-bell. I also studied poorly and was not interested in anything, after some time I gave up my ballet classes, although I managed to hold on for seven years.
It seems to me, that I should stop here, there’s no point in focusing upon this good-for-nothing. She fits right in a forgotten and once-existed place.
In the small room of the parent log house, which was considered to be mine, there was a wooden wardrobe with full-length mirror doors. On one of the usual boring days, before going to bed, I (sometimes I will give this letter “I” kind of detached and characteristic meaning), so, “Anna the inconspicuous” put on her pyjamas, sewn by her mother in the due hour. Lingering around the wardrobe, she began to stare intently at her reflection in the mirror, seeing there a humble girl with long skinny arms and legs, a flat body, a shapeless shock of dark hair and flapping eyelashes framing green eyes. There was nothing remarkable in this young person, a sort of faceless “gray mouse”.
— Now what? Aren’t you tired of walking around the streets and mixing with the gray mass of people. Try to make them turn around to look at you, smile at the sight of you, — I distinctly heard an unfamiliar voice, of a young guy. Having turned quickly, I looked around my room. It was empty, not even a fly or a mosquito could be seen, and they usually fly into the open window. But I felt a sharp cold — it ran down my back, transpired small goosebumps along the spine and then spread all over the body. I froze in a daze.
— Believe me, it is not so difficult, — he continued speaking; the voice was already coming from behind. Turning my head slightly, I glanced toward the sound, although it was expected that I would not find anyone there. — Do not be afraid of me, I am here to help you. — I backed away, and with horror fell on the bed. — We have a lot of fun and interesting days ahead. You will realize who you are. You can become whoever you want and what you want, the main thing is that you must trust me.
That’s how I heard it for the first time. In a weird way my fear disappeared quickly and most of the night was spent talking to a new acquaintance, and in remaining hours, when I fell asleep, he came to my dream in the form of a young dark-haired boy, we were riding white horses together. He easily managed to win my confidence and get on my right side. Subsequently, I appropriately called him — “an invisible friend.”
In a couple of months, I was walking down the street with my head held high, my blond-colored hair streamed in the breeze, even the girls paid attention to the harmony of my long legs in tight jeans, and strangers said compliments. It gave me undisguised pleasure to catch the admiring glances of men. Now they turned around to look at me.
At one of the school discos, “Anna the confident” was dancing with the cutest school leaver who looked like a handsome actor Freddie Prince Jr., an idol of early noughties teenagers. And the school leaver had no idea that the girl, that was dancing at the moment next to him and clinging to him in a slow dance is the one who had been passing by — “Anna the gray mouse”, so he did not notice her before.
In fact, I was indifferent to this guy, like all the others who were after him. It was interesting to live in a new way. I was just following the instructions of my “invisible friend,” who miraculously managed to awaken my confidence. He told a lot of interesting things, gave advice. Thanks to him, I was able to become myself, he managed to open that heavy door, where my real emotions were waiting in the wings. “Anna the impressed” was able to enjoy a previously unknown world, boundless and barren of obstacles.
Together with my “invisible friend” every summer morning I went for a run, swept through green fields through the cold wind, feeling free and being able to run without stopping, enjoying the freshness of the forest. Sometimes in the evenings we took my father’s boat, sailed to the middle of the river (I paddled, of course, because my “invisible friend” was all so intangible, bodiless and untouchable with the nature of things) and dived from the bow. I imagined him diving into the water with me, as if he was a dark-haired boy. He scared me by telling about a river monster, lurking at the bottom of the river. There were monsters waiting for the right moment to grab your legs and drag you into their dark underwater dominions. We called him Buddy. “Anna the brave” dived into the depths of the river hoping of finding him, but she found no one except fish in the murky, greenish water.
Sometimes my “invisible friend” and I were sitting motionless on the boat. Lifting the oars, we peered at the surrounding high, gentle banks, shrouded in the evening glow of the sun. We imagined that terrible creatures lived in the shady thickets of the forest in the wilds.
— Listen and you will hear how they are walking there, — my “invisible friend” used to tell me.
Fascinated by the fabulous performance, “Anna the no longer skeptic,” was listening attentively, and when suddenly the crackling of dry branches could be heard from the depths of the forest, and the birds took off above the treetops and tore their throats with the cries, she involuntarily shuddered with fear. And each time she waited for the appearance of at least one of these creatures, with curiosity, imagining how it would come to the shore, but no one came out.
Yes, and what is more: we loved to swim to the island. It was there, behind a sharp curve of the river, all it took was to swim a few meters. Artificially created, to be honest, I don’t know why and by whom, but it had a place to be. On its sandy shore, in the shadow of tall willow bushes, we made figures of sand and imagined that we were surrounded by the sea, the endless salty sea, playing in waves. I quickly mastered the craft of modeling, taking special delight in creating figures of mermaids, because I could stick them breasts of any size I wanted, make them perfectly round. I admit, I myself wanted to have the one like those. A few years later, in Israel, a famous plastic surgeon would provide me with “such” breasts.
In addition to doing all sorts of nonsense with my “invisible friend,” there were others related to real male characters that were close to me in age. I went on dates, meeting several guys at the same time, started new acquaintances time after time, and I was amused by this performance. I was having a great time. But as such, I did not feel love for anyone. None of the boyfriends was even a shadow of a man who, as I thought, would be the one, and would be special, it was in him that I began to feel an increasing need. He definitely cannot be found in a small town or forests adjacent to it. But why should I be looking for him? — Why can’t he find me himself? Anyway, it was worth it to leave the place for many reasons. So let’s see what happens.
2016. Israel. Bat-Yam
“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. you never know what you’re gonna get.”
The movie Forest Gump 1994
I was having a dream.
Sitting on a cloud, I was talking to the one who had changed me once. His human appearance was blurred, his face was not visible.
— I’ve got a present for you, — he says in a low, gruff voice.
— What is it? — I peer into his blurred image with interest. He is no longer a boy, he grew up with me, but the man he became did not reveal himself to me.
— This is what you have been eager to have for so long, what you have been dreaming about — He puts sends his palm into the weightless translucent flesh of the cloud and, raising a piece of it, he stretches it to towards me.
— That’s all nonsense. — I shift my glance at a translucent, smoky lump, barely visible to the eye, fit in the open palms of the “invisible friend.”
— Let’s see what you will say in seven days.
— Seven days? I’m already getting interested. But, do you know what?
— In fact, people do not sit on the clouds, and it is unlikely that your gift will be real. — I stretch my arms to him, then he passes this cloudy lump to me, which, falling down, gets into my hands. It is heavy and weighty, despite its smoky transparency.
— Then, it turns out, that you don’t exist either, because you cannot sit on a cloud either.
“Nonsense, a new crazy joke from my “invisible friend” I thought, having woken up, and quickly got out of bed and was not being fussed about the Delphian dream, but I should have been. The hands of the clock, hanging on the white wall, froze, indicating the beginning of the tenth hour.
— Great, I’ve almost overslept, — I said out loud and went to the shower at a brisk walk.
This May evening was surprisingly cool for the Israeli climate. I did not want to bother my head about the choice of attire. After several sleepless nights fatigue prevented me from thinking rationally. From the back of the chair, standing alone in the corner of the bedroom, I took a short black dress that was on me yesterday, or maybe… well, not maybe, but also the day before yesterday. Having put it on, I felt the smell of male perfume and cigarette smoke absorbed into the fabric.
My mobile phone, which was next to the pillow, made its presence felt at a due time.
— Anna, I’m downstairs, come out, — the weary voice of the driver came.
— All right.
I threw the phone into a large bag filled with the things I needed for work, threw it on my shoulder, sighed and said to myself: I can handle it, fatigue is just a signal sent by my tired brain, and my body is stronger than I think.
It does not matter, whether this statement is true or not, the main thing is that it makes sense to exist, and if you believe in it, it will certainly be so. And I believed in it.
Having approached the car where the driver was waiting for me, I opened the door, threw the bag onto the back seat, then took the front seat and asked him:
— Where are we going?
— Not far from here, just 15 minutes, — he answered, moving the car from a standstill.
The driver’s name is Dani (by the way, he’s a rather attractive young guy). He was eager to get to the heights in the service in the Israel Defense Forces. At the moment, his meager salary was enough only for basic necessities, so he had to take a side job at night.
In Israel, the rhythm of life is crazy, especially in the center, where people have several jobs, forgetting about sleep and rest. They are constantly going somewhere, creating traffic jams, being in a hurry and nervous. Shabbat, according to the Jews faith, was supposed to slow down this endless madness, to give at least one day of peace and quiet during the week, but the power of money turned out to be stronger than faith, and most of those living here worked even on Sabbath.
I will say this: political affairs in the state of the country, is not my main concern. Moreover I don’t watch TV or read newspapers, but I would like to quickly note one important thing (I won’t go too deeply into it), shedding light on one of the prominent features of the Israeli state. Hostilities in the south of the country, momentarily subsiding so that everyone could see how good life can be in peace, but just for a moment. Perhaps this is why the Israelis are trying to live by the following principle: Rejoice every day and reconcile with the fact that the ancient problems will not disappear for many centuries to come. As for me, it is hard to get used to such circumstances. When rockets are soaring over your head, you become a believer, you turn to God himself, shuddered from the increasing howl of a siren. The siren sound is the most frightening sound I have ever heard, everything gets quiet after the howl, dead silence, there’s not a rustle to be heard, not a word, not a hint of movement. A few seconds, and then the whistle of approaching rockets is heard, after that goes the roar, some of them fall and explode, sometimes in the yard of the neighboring high-rise building, and some were shoot down by the opposing batteries of the Iron Dome system.
Everything worked out — it means that you can continue doing your routine, that is, until the next siren goes off, there is no one who can predict with any accuracy when it will happen, but it will, without a doubt.
— Am I working alone today? — I asked Dani.
— Yes, but do not worry, I’ve talked to them on the phone. Two quite steady guys. In any case, I will come up with you, I will give them the necessary instructions, -he encouraged me.
In a small room of a cheap hotel, with the windows draped with thick beige curtains and the bed occupying most of the space of the room, there was a pair of representatives of Jewish youth. The guys, a little over twenty, were similar to each other, thin, with barely noticeable light stubble on their cheekbones and the same hairstyles in the latest fashion, when the hair is cut short at the temples, and the remaining long strands are combed together at the back of the head. They were wearing similar T-shirts of the same brand, differing only in color: one in white, and the other in blue. On a low coffee table, pulled up to the bed, there was a plate, and a rolled-up bill and credit card on it, next to this flat plate there was a bottle of whiskey.
— Will you pour me a drink? — I addressed one of the guys, pointing by a look at the bottle after Dani had left the room.
— Of course, said the one in the white T-shirt, and reached for a stack of plastic cups.
We spoke Hebrew, “Anna the capable” mastered the language after several months of her stay in the country, not to say a word about the level of knowledge after less than six years.
— Are you just dancing? — asked the guy wearing a blue T-shirt. Smiling nicely, he patted the bed with his palm, just on the place next to him where I was supposed to sit.
I left my bag on the table and had a seat next to him, he handed me a one-dollar bill twisted into a tube. I shook my head slightly, showing my refusal, mentally grinning at the significance of the one-dollar bill. What is the general sense of sniffing, using a piece of paper that equals one dollar, it is the same as drinking champagne for a thousand Euro on the side of the road from disposable cups and chasing it down with a half sour pickle.
— Yes, only dancing, — I answered confidently and calmly.
— And for a special fee? — asked the same one, wearing a blue T-shirt, then he bent over the table and, putting one end of the rolled bill in his nostril, inhaled a line of powder that waited patiently for him on the plate.
— For a special fee, you can call a prostitute. — I considered sex for money to be too low, but dancing, even if half-naked, was quite acceptable in my opinion. And this work did not dill purely in dancing, but in the ability to create a certain mood for the client.
My companion rubbed his nose and then raised his head and asked:
— I see, my name is Idan, and yours?
— Karina. Having voiced my stage name, I took the iced whiskey from the guy wearing a white T-shirt, and took a small sip.
— You are good! — said Idan, grinning in a blissful smile, he did not ask any more questions. — It’s my brother’s birthday, dance for him.
— With pleasure, — I expressed my consent in a soft voice full of good nature.
When I was going to Israel, there wasn’t even a hint in my mind that I would strip for money. But now everything is so conventional, to nauseating extremes. Yes, I easily managed to turn my appearance into a source of income. It would seem that all you need is to take off your dress, smile believably, dance sexually, congratulate the birthday boy on the birthday, bring variety to a lonely man’s night, or leave the groom pleasant memories of a stag party. But everything is not so easy. One after another, sleepless nights spent under the influence of alcohol exhaust and undermine the psyche. And the clients are finishing it off. Not like these cute young boys. Today I was lucky. They are the kind of personalities that it’s a wonder the earth allows them to simply walk on him. And paradoxically, their life is full of luck, they are given many opportunities, and that is why the money flows like water into their hands. Devilish perverts and drug addicts, most of whom are also the main levers in the management of society.
A politician who is expected to bring about some changes (the one so zealously proclaiming clever slogans), a writer whose stupefied inspiration leads to new deep thoughts, a popular singer calling to actions in his songs lyrics, the judge decides who must be isolated, and who must be granted freedom, all of them keep their secrets and secretly lend themselves to vices. For themselves, they think (entrusting me their secrets) that one should not be shy with girls like me. With us chippies, the “representatives of the elite” become who they really are, because we do not limit their behavior, it is limited only by the size of the tip. And such customers have plenty of cash.
When I was only starting my career in this, as it turned out, so necessary service sector, I didn’t assume that I would face similar circumstances. And after a few years, I learned not to pay much attention to them. I thought only about money, “fast money”. My “invisible friend” didn’t particularly like this variant of earning money, but still he supported me, that’s why he is a friend.
He knew all that was required, about each interlocutor — their thoughts, background, weaknesses, had subtle knowledge of their inner world. Should my attractive appearance, genius to acting be added here — and we have everything that is needed in order to win the interest of the right person and get what you want. That was the success of conquering their hearts. The ability to speak properly, to see the interlocutor’s through, pulling the strings of his soul. With ease, he became a slave puppet in the skilful hands of a puppeteer. It’s a good job, where I could use my friend’s and my own talents with good benefit.