Yevgenia Belorusets

A BRIEF DECLARATION
ON WAITING

i agreed to meet a longtime acquaintance of mine at the Golden Gate metro station despite the fact that she had been putting on supercilious airs with me of late.

Andrea would initially call me, then not call me for a week, then call me twice again, twice in an hour, and then not call for a month. But she put on airs in other ways, too. For example, once we were strolling around together and she flung at me, “Yes, yes, I remember your words, but they didn’t make an impression.” Can you imagine?

You can’t get away with acting like that—it doesn’t just vanish from memory.

I remember how she and I were walking down the street one day. She was gazing somewhere above the treetops as if oblivious to my words, and then all of a sudden she interrupted me and declared, “This summer is so hot, you can’t even breathe.” Then she yawned, as if I hadn’t been talking to her a second ago, as coherently, thoughtfully, and articulately as I always speak. How unbearable is the loneliness you can feel in her company! Of course it happens to me, too, sometimes, when I’m talking to myself and my interlocutor interrupts my thoughts with a random remark and I imagine she has interrupted our conversation whereas she only terminated my silence. But, I swear, this wasn’t what happened then! How excruciating to suffer such injustice, especially when you know you’ve been speaking aloud while counting on the attention of a person with whom meetings are so rare.

What’s more, there are times when we’re sitting in a café and Andrea smiles at me but actually she’s laughing at me.

Or when she walks right past me without saying hello, and later claims she didn’t want to disturb me.

She also plays this trick. I tell her how I was looking forward to seeing her; she replies with a joke, and I laugh—not because I feel like laughing but because I’m overcome with shame and bitterness. She follows with a barb about my laughter, that it’s screechy, or “Russian,” or “Ukrainian.” One day she told me that I had “the laughter of Lviv,” without further explanation.

And yet, with the passage of time after each failed meeting, I agree to see Andrea again. The truth is that during the span of our friendship I actually got to know her well. She is generous, sometimes majestic in her kindness. One day, in front of my very eyes, she picked up a dead bird from the pavement and took it home to care for and revive. Such conduct offered me a measure of instruction that I tried to absorb.

It was her magnanimity that pulled me toward the location of our meeting. I arrived several minutes late to show her that I also knew how to be late but also without making her wait too long. Yet she wasn’t there. What was I hoping for as I prepared for our meeting, calculating in advance the minutes of my late arrival?

I sat on the sun-heated parapet for a while. The verdant earthworks of the Golden Gate rose behind me. It was warm. People stood around in the dull rays of the sun; many of them would soon leave with those they had been waiting for. I hadn’t noticed when twenty minutes had passed. Actually, half an hour had passed.

Among those who, like me, tarried by the little area in front of the metro exit, there were some remarkable characters. I don’t think they were waiting for anyone.

What if I, too, were here only to pass the time? That would definitely save the pathetic situation I was in. Not only would I have not arrived earlier than my friend would but, you could say, I completely spurned our meeting, finding myself here because of other, immensely weightier business.

Not far from me, on the island in front of the glass doors, stood a man with several tall plastic sacks; he stood behind the sacks, as if he were lurking on the other side of a wide, low wall. He wore a shapeless grey suit that looked as if it were drowning him. Sometimes he leaned forward to shuffle small, carefully packed bundles from one bag to another. The bags were bright yellow and green. I might easily have been standing with the exact same bags.

To really place yourself in someone else’s shoes, however, you have to learn the details, figure out, inquire: What is the purpose of his presence near the metro? And how long will his presence last?

“Hello!”

His response was pretending not to hear me, so I repeated:

“Hello!”

“Yeah, hello,” he muttered, speaking almost to himself.

“I like the fact that that you’re not waiting for anyone here.”

“What?”

“Or are you waiting for somebody?”

“I don’t understand.”

“I guess I’m interfering in somebody else’s business but I would like to resolve an issue having to do with waiting. How can I best explain it to you? You’re standing here, by the metro, you don’t need anybody, you’re simply passing your time here, so to speak. Still, you look as if you do have somewhere you could be going to. You have many bundles with you, you don’t strike me as a poor person. You’re not a child, you have a family. Perhaps you’re a brilliant master of a respectable profession, and your colleagues are waiting for you at your job even at this evening hour, since you’re irreplaceable. But nonetheless you chose to come here, to spend time here, out in the open, on this windy, not very clean square. The whole world lies before you but here’s where you’ve come to stand, alone, without complaints about your fate, without so much as a murmur, nor much glancing around, really. It can’t be said that you’re here to observe any incidents or to examine the passengers of the metro as they hurry home. You don’t look at the couples in love, you don’t give women any notice. This is the very reason why your figure, your confident posture, possibly, and your unspoken views all pique my interest. So I would like to know what brought you here. Please spare me no details. Probably not a personal relationship but a waiting for a miracle, yes, waiting for something unknown and mysterious?”

“I see how well you have divined my secret. For the first time in my life I’ve met a person who understood me without words, grasped me at one glance. I do come here sometimes, several times a week, to stand by the metro exit without waiting for anyone. Only here do I have the time to think about everything I’ve wanted to think about my whole life, but put off for later. It’s the only place where I can be myself, indulge in the most free and unrestrained fantasies, and nobody will block my way, nobody will figure out what I’m really doing here. Lately, I confess, I’ve no longer wanted to waste my time in front of the metro on such thoughts, however momentous they may be. I am here, a part of my body touches the sidewalk through the soles of my shoes, my gaze is mainly directed toward a single point, although occasionally I turn my head a little like this and then return it to its original position. The most incredible visions appear before my eyes when I stand by the metro: unimaginable, astounding things become visible. Whereas trivial, everyday things, on the contrary, disappear from my field of vision, dissolve somewhere at the periphery, in the darkness. Eventually there always comes a particular moment—and I never leave before the moment arrives—when these bags that you can see standing before me, these huge, colossal, colorful sacks full of every necessity of life and even death, everything I need for the most profitable of my deals and the best of my sales, when they, these most common receptacles, begin to glow. At first with the muted yellow glow of a normal lightbulb; later with an astonishingly clean, white LED fluorescence, marvelous in its perfection and richness of nuance. And only when that happens, when the light begins to pulsate slightly in what may be described as a frenzy, do I understand that I may walk away from here—or else remain here for a bit longer to wait for the events that follow, events I anticipate with fear and bewilderment and cannot help but make wild guesses about. Today, for your sake, I violated my essential rule, the rule of absolute—I am not afraid to say it—crepuscularity, which is how my friends describe this state. But, I very much beg you, please allow me to return to this rule immediately. Honestly, I cannot spare you another minute, notwithstanding your discernment that touched me to the core. You must go away from me, even if you are the sole person on Earth who could possibly share this state with me, even if you alone are capable of understanding both my immense joy and my initial fear. Still, I cannot allow myself the slightest risk of losing this evening. To be sure, quite possibly—I cannot fully exclude the probability—you are not at all this kind of person—you never have been and you will never learn to be.”

translated by Eugene Ostashevsky