The journey from Poznan to Poltava wasn’t so long. We took the highway I think, because it was very smooth the whole way, except for some hiccups at customs. Ukraine is the biggest European country and I’ve traveled from Eastern Poland to Western Ukraine in 26 hours. Europe’s distances are a joke. How did it come to happen that such a minuscule continent became once the center of the world? I really don’t know. Or so they thought, the vain Europeans, while beyond their borders blossomed a marvelous world whose immensity was beyond their comprehension. I just can guess the stupor of the first Spaniards who discovered America. After having fought the French, the Arabs and then the Portuguese for centuries to keep that small piece of land they call home, minus that province that became Portugal, to come across the vastness of America. They must have gone out of their minds. After all, how many Spains can be fit into my immense country, with Portugal included? Five or six maybe? The biggest dinosaurs tramped Argentinean land. I haven’t heard of many gigantosaurous found is Spain though, I guess they would’ve suffered from claustrophobia over there.
But enough of digression. I just meant to say that I’ve traversed the Atlantic and half Brazil a couple of times to visit my parents in Argentina. An eleven hour plane from let’s say Paris to Sao Paulo, and then a two days ride to Resistencia, in the North of Argentina. I’ve heard the longest flight is from the U.S to Australia, around fourteen hours. Now that’s something to brag about, but I haven’t had the chance nor the reason to do it. Twenty-six hours by bus is just a trip from my hometown to the Argentinean capital or half a trip to Rio de Janeiro. I listened to my mp3 through half the way and I slept the other half. Before I could start feeling bored, I was already there.
I met Julia six months ago. I fell in love with her beauty and simplicity. What’s there not to like? She makes my life sweeter and she gives me no trouble. Far forgotten are the Argentinean soap operas I watched, in which women were depicted as hysterical beings run by their emotions. She is more emotional stable than me right now and way more stable than I was at her age. She seems to hold the simple secret of happiness, which she is happy to share with me.
She moved to Poznan two years ago. She went there to seek a better future. We converged in that city. I ended up there for no particular reason. When I decided to come to Poland I didn’t care much about the city. I preferred the capital because it is the capital for some reason, but the rest of the country was indifferent to me. I happened to find a good University in Poznan, but other than that, I feel that if I had just dropped my finger on a Polish map, I couldn’t have taken a better a worse decision.
Now Ukraine is another matter. Before making up my mind in favor of Poland I had thought of Ukraine as an option. Now I’m glad I had enough common sense not to do that. Back then, in 2012, coming to Ukraine wasn’t the best idea, and now, with Porochenko’s holy war against his own people, it sounds just a little short of suicidal. I recently watched a video on Youtube about a Brazilian guy being condemned to seven years of prison in Ukraine because he helped the guerrilla fighters. He was in Brazil already, and the Ukrainian government tricked him back to Ukraine with a false job offer just to catch him as soon as he got off the plane. This is one of the first impressions I have of this country and unfortunately it is not a good one. Such a convoluted way of catching someone they deemed a criminal reminds me of the CIA and all the twisted methods implemented by the Americans in their cold war against communism. The poor guy had gone home already; he was done fighting. But I guess the government was in a vindictive mood that day. I’m dismayed by the Ukrainians’ callousness; they’re so used to horrible things happening to them that a city destroyed and some innocent people murdered by the government is not so shocking. Beyond Donetsk, life goes on as usual; Ukrainians won’t let a small thing like the whole destruction of one of their regions affect their everyday life.
These thoughts may look like a digression, but they’re actually relevant to me at the moment because Poltava happens to be only two hundred kilometers from Donetsk. If we were talking about Argentina, that would be like talking about the next big city in the map, so forgive me if I’m afraid. I’m only two hours away from death by Ukrainian fascism. And unfortunately I’m a generic Latinamerican. I don’t think I’ll have time to explain I’m not Brazilian before they launch their first missile at at my curly head.
The reason of my visit to Ukraine is the marriage of Julia’s sister. I haven’t met her yet, but I couldn’t miss such an important occasion for Julia. Her sister was one of the few Ukrainians who still chose Ukraine. She is a few years older than Julia, almost my age, and she is from the epoch when the youth still gave a shit. I don’t mean to belittle millennials, but they seemed to me like androgynous, apolitical, ahistorical beings who wander around for no particular reason. As we say back in Argentina: They live because the air is free. Julia explained it to me. She actually didn’t want to leave, but she was pushed by her father. Honestly speaking, I’d also leave this country if I was her. It’s all very romantic to live in a poor but beautiful country, but when you have an Ukrainian Nazi as president, you’d better save for a plain ticket while you still can cross the border. I understand her decision and I’m very happy for her. Actually, I don’t know why I’m even judging her; my decision to go to Poland was totally not out of necessity. I was simply bored with Argentina. Yes, that’s the whole depth of my existential anguish: I can’t stand boredom.
I was born and raised in Poltava. When I was young, I was fascinated by the world and I wanted to travel everywhere, specially to those places which were settings to the novels I’d read: Saint Petersburg, Paris, Florence, Istanbul, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, The Cairo, Dublin, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Vienna, Buenos Aires, New York. The world was a marvelous place full of magical mystery to me back then, but eventually I grew up. All these magic places that had inspired so many writers were tarnished with politics. My country also has been a source of inspiration for many good writers; imagination is a skill we highly appreciate and promote here, since actual adventures are a luxury that we can’t afford. But I wanted something more than nice dreams for my country, so I decided to study Agronomy at the State Academy. I know everything is soiled by politics, even something as essential as food production, but I believe that what will help our country get ahead are not political revolutions but the capacity of our people and our traditional economic activities.
My friend Yana is marrying tomorrow. We went to high-school together and afterwards we kept in touch. I actually don’t have many friends left from my youth; most of them left to Kiev or other countries. But Yana found a good job and a caring husband; what more can someone ask? I’m very happy for her. In a way, it’s a selfish joy because it fills me with hopes for the future of my country. I’m not patriotic, but I’m attached to the people I’ve met and the places I’ve lived in. That’s why I’ve stayed here, and also because it’s the only way of really improving this globalized world. We can go to where the money and the opportunities are, but someone needs to stay to create opportunities where we are. We have the capacity and the will, what else do we need?
I’m considered a beauty among beauties, and this is something that has anguished me hen I was younger. I don’t want to sound ridiculous; I’m not complaining about the looks my mother passed down to me: She’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met. I just didn’t know how to deal with it. I would’ve preferred to be a plain girl having commonplace issues; I never cared about fame or popularity. My looks were just a source of anxiety to me because they lured me to a lifestyle I would’ve regretted. Poverty and beauty are a terrible combination for women, and unfortunately this is Ukrainian most common cocktail. Very early in my life I understood that I was not only beautiful as every girl who becomes a woman is, but also beautiful as paintings and ideals. Every girl has had at least one admirer that has flattered her spirit and given her the joy of feeling like a woman, but this is a bittersweet pleasure when you can’t reciprocate those candid feelings, and in great quantities it just becomes pure bitterness. It was frustrating to see young guys, full of enthusiasm and potential, squander emotions and become despondent because of me. These experiences made me into a very unsociable person, which at the same time hurt me because of my strong attachment to people and places. If to this, I had added the commercialization of my image, I could’ve ended as a victim of the modeling and entertainment industry, as many beautiful girls do. Then my sexuality wouldn’t be mine to use in the intimacy of a relationship with the person I choose, but it would be open to the public, showcased for money.
But now my actions precede my image. I’ve just finished my studies and I’ve started working on a project to create sustainable community farmlands in some surrounding areas of Poltava. Now my looks are a nonessential detail. I haven’t happened to find a partner yet. I’ve fallen in and out of love a couple of times, but hurting hearts is not for me so I decided not to toy with guy’s feelings anymore. I’ve never had my heart broken by anyone and it’s something that scares me because I don’t know if I’m able to create a strong romantic attachment to someone. Of course I want a family with as many kids as possible, but I also want to feel that emotion that makes us blindly jealous of one single person. I want to feel that madness artists sing and write poems about. I don’t want a deliberated decision, based on affinity and common goals. I want to live fully, and if it means to be single forever, so be it. Meanwhile I focus on trying to help others. There are more altruistic people that we know about and I happened to met many who’ve inspired me. But altruism is seen everywhere: In the love of parents for their children and in friendship. Humans need to give out love; it’s in our nature. Of course human nature is very rich, and some people are so full of emotions that there is no place for altruism. I actually envy them; I envy those who live their lives so intensively that they don’t need or care about anyone else. But I’m just human, so I fill the void of my life with uncalled for help to others. I’m like a dog who wants to bring you back the ball you throw, unnecessary as this action may be. But it makes me happy, and that’s what matters to me. I don’t deceive myself that I may not be the solution to anyone’s problems but I may actually being bothering many; however, I have the right to live and seek happiness as everyone else, and I simply exercise this right as much as I can.
Life in Poltava doesn’t differ much from life in Argentina. This city is actually more developed than my hometown and people here seem to be more used to comfort than we are. I haven’t seen improvised houses as you can find in Argentina. There’s heating everywhere and even air conditioners. Everything is better except for salaries, politics and weather. Even the music is good. I’ve heard more nice songs in one day in Ukraine than in six years in Poland. The radio is full of joyous techno music, which reminds me of the ubiquitous cumbia in Argentina, but if you look well, you can find very nice rock Ukrainian songs. The housing is very post-communist, though. It’s hard to find low density housing, as in Argentina, and I’m not sure why, since Ukraine is a huge country with relatively few inhabitants. But you can still see many housing estates. The one things I like about the architecture is a great amount of buildings have a magic number of floors: Four, which makes the buildings look more homely than the tall apartment buildings we have in Argentina. Four is the magic number; you get some density without losing sight of the sky or the windows in the building. I’ve seen some five store buildings also, and they look already impersonal, as if they were hospitals or government offices.
It’s the wedding day and we’re driving to the registry office now. We waited for the groom to come and buy out the bride. Those are the words they used, and the whole act was like purchasing a chicken or something. There was even a bargain, where the groom offered some champagne and his offer wasn’t accepted, so he needed to raise it with some money. I think the tradition represents a compensation to the parents who are losing a valuable member of their family, which shows the strong family bonds in this country. The groom also needed to show himself worthy of the bride, so he had to pass some tests, solving some sort of puzzles. I must admit that I wasn’t paying attention; a gorgeous Ukrainian girl stole my attention. She appeared half an hour before the groom and was part of the group of ladies who sold the bride. They and the groom’s gang were the focus of attention anyway; the rest of us was just hanging around watching. But my eyes were focused on her sweet expressions, her delicate features and big light eyes, her slender legs and shapely hips. Now and then my eyes checked on Julia, to avoid being caught looking at another girl, but this just worsened the whole feeling. My girlfriend had now become the main obstacle to my happiness: Getting closer to that girl. Unfortunately, we weren’t even introduced, and she was always busy with the sell of her friend. She also seemed to be immersed in her own thoughts. She didn’t strike me as a sociable person; I hate those. She was civil and her manners were very kind and attentive, but she didn’t seem to be part of the euphoria that surrounded the bride. She seemed to have her own world, from which she graciously went out whenever she was required to, but otherwise she remained in the background, as if compensating for her looks with humility and self-effacement. She was also simply dressed, but that only highlighted her inviting shapes. It wasn’t the first time I looked at another girl, but it was the first time I fell for someone else. I have an ability to fall in and out of love very quickly, so I know that after a few weeks of not seeing this girl anymore, the attraction would wane to a mere fantasy, which will be sublimated into some poems, a short story or a character in a novel. I’m in my thirties and I’m rather happy I can still have these strong unprovoked feelings. I feel my artistic facet is more awaken than ever and this thrills me. Also, I’m grown up now, which means that I’ve already gotten rid of intrusive idealism. As much as this may shock everyone, morality isn’t an issue here. The morals were rapidly ascertained: First of all, you can’t control feelings and therefore you aren’t responsible for them. Secondly, I haven’t cheated, unless looking furtively at other girls is considered cheating. My only concern at this moment is to find a way to make these feelings evolve or reach an end. I want to meet her and be requited or rejected by her. I can’t just let it go; I feel that my relationship with Julia will be a farce if I do. My feelings for this stranger are stronger than my feelings for Julia, so the only solution I see is to pursue this emotion wherever it takes me. If the girl is interested in me, which is the least probable scenario, then I’ll be in a real Argentinean soap opera. But if she shows no interest, I can already start rehabilitating my heart to fall in love again with Julia. I will spare her the details and look for some excuse to go away for a couple of weeks to rekindle my feelings for her. It would be as if nothing had happened, which is actually the case.
Today is the Vesillya, the joyous ceremony of the wedding. The svat with his svatannya came this morning to my friend’s house, where we were waiting to do the interception, pereyma. They were asked to pay the proper ransom for our friend, and we bargained, as it’s customary, because we think our friend is very dear. Then we gave a couple of beautifully embroidered rushnyki to the svatannya as a symbol of acceptance of their offer. To make it funnier, we actually left a pumpkin outside the house, on a table visible from where the pereyma took place. Everyone laughed from the moment they saw it, and the svatannya teased the groom about it during the whole ritual. To give a pumpkin to the groom: Daty harbuza, means to refuse his offer. It’s actually an idiom in Ukrainian, which means to refuse something. Traditionally a pumpkin was actually given when the proposal was refused, so the suitor wouldn’t leave empty handed. Back in the day, this ritual was actually part of the betrothal, which took place just a few weeks before the wedding. Then the girls’ parents went to the groom’s house to inspect and if they agreed to it, the betrothal took place. The lapse between the engagement and the actual marriage wasn’t so long as it is today because marriage was more relevant back then, since premarital sex was socially unacceptable and the blessing of the families wasn’t a simple formality as it is nowadays but a necessity, for without the parents’ economic support, the young couple wouldn’t have the means to live properly. We still keep some symbols from that epoch, for instance the wreaths of myrtle or periwinkle which we wore the night before last at the hen party: They symbolize purity and virginity.
The parents blessed the couple, wishing them good luck in their married life, and after that, they held up the korovai, our traditional wedding bread. It’s beautifully decorated with two doves, representing the couple, the tree of life in the center and pines all around, representing fertility. Illya, the groom, lifted his bride up and carried her to their car, in the traditional way. The wedding train is decorated with ribbons and the vesilne hiltse, a big branch of a tree decorated with red berries and ribbons, which symbolizes the Tree of Life. Now we’re driving to the registry office for the exchange of vows. The bride is radiant; I’ve never seen her so happy before. We’ve grown apart through the years, but her invitation to be part of this important event in her life fills me with honor and gratitude. We haven’t exchanged many words and it’s my only regret. In moments like this wished I had more histrionic skills, but fortunately the rest of the girls have the social skills to make a frolic out of this event, as it should be.
The exchange of vows ceremony was short and sweet. The couple went to take some pictures and we, the crowd, dispersed. I just read an English translation of one of Lem’s books, Ijon Tichy, till it was time to get ready for the wedding party. Very interesting book about futurology; I wonder whether he invented all those neologisms in Polish or in English. I wonder how they rendered a word such as twofootalitarianism into Spanish: Maybe bipeditarianismo.
We’re at a fancy restaurant right now, waiting for the newlywed to come and start the party. We have exchanged glances and my heart rate hasn’t gone back to normal since then. We were both sitting at our respective tables when she caught me looking at her. In of spite my reflexes, I didn’t look away, and she posed her eyes on me for longer than etiquette allows. We stared at each other for an eternity, which may actually have been only five seconds, in which none of us expressed any emotion but extreme wonder. Then she lowered her eyes, as in an involuntary sign of shame for her overtness, but she didn’t look away; she just stared at the floor for a couple of seconds just to look at me again. To her utter discomposure, I was looking back at her. This time, her look fled mine, as if a crime had just been committed. For a moment I thought she had just found me odd, and she had shamelessly stared at me, wondering what a Latino might be doing in an Ukrainian wedding. She must be used to guys staring at her all the time, so I find it hard to believe that she was flattered or ashamed by it. I thought she realized she’d emboldened me with her behavior and this upset her, so she didn’t dare to look back at me again. But then she looked at me again. This time her look was like an open question or an invitation to come and talk to her. I was exhilarated, but I couldn’t budge from my chair, specially not with her staring at me. I’m not Brad Pitt, and even if I was, I don’t think I would have the guts to walk towards such a beauty, confident that she’s actually inviting me to come with her looks. This time I cowered away from her and we have just exchanged a few furtive glances since then. I’m in stealth mode right now, trying to inch my way towards her. My girlfriend is with her sister and they may come in any time now. I’m desperate. I should just go up to her and introduce myself, but my mind is boycotting me. I’m pacing around awkwardly now. There are some people standing all around, greeting each other and chatting loudly, so I don’t look suspicious, but I’m conspicuous because of my foreign looks. They all must think I’m just restless because I don’t know anyone, and this is my greatest fear, because anyone can come and talk to me at any time. I can’t miss this chance; it might be the only chance I have to meet her. Besides, she’s being sitting there without talking to anyone all this time. She looks despondent, as if affected by my presence. Fuck it all, I don’t care about what may happen, I’m going!
The exchange of vows was solemn, but sweet, with a confetti finale and all. It wasn’t done in a church, which makes it more solemn even, because it’s not a mutual promise in front of an invisible god but a binding promise in front of the law, which is something more palpable. After the ceremony was over, we went for some tea at Tania’s place and did some catching up with her and Lyalya. Time flew and before we noticed, it was already time to come to the party.
But my memory is acting up because of the strong emotion that overwhelms my senses at the moment. I’ve seen a dark haired man at a table in front of mine. He looks Spanish, Italian or Latin, but he may be Georgian as well. I’ve met some foreigners before, but none of them was handsomer than the average Ukrainian guy. He was staring at me, with a concentrated, purposeful stare that shook me up. I hadn’t seen him before and all of a sudden he was staring at me; I couldn’t help but stare back. However, the pleasure of being stared at with such intensity was rapidly replaced by a pragmatical observation: He is sitting at the main table. He must be closely related to Yana; I guess he’s her sister’s boyfriend or husband. My enthusiasm was changed into a shameful emotion all of a sudden. Now I’m just the femme fatale whose irresistible charms are good men’s doom. But is it possible that he is related to Yana in any other way? I can’t find another reason for him to be here, except the mad one that he came all the way from his country just to stare at me. Whenever I look at him, he’s staring back. He must be doing it unawares, because anyone could realize his emotions at this moment. He’s like an open book, and now he’s stood up to walk towards me. I don’t know what may become of it all.
I feel jealous of her, I mean Julia. For the first time in my life I regret my decision of staying here. I didn’t think about it before. I didn’t think I could fall so low as to want to steal someone’s boyfriend. I’ve neglected my sexuality so much that now the first dark–haired foreigner that comes can shake my world. It would do no harm if he was single, but he’s obviously with her. I don’t want to be that kind of girl who knows she can have any man she wants; I want to believe there’s more to relationships than sexual attraction. But how can I know? I’ve never in one. I feel that my sexuality is trying to catch up with me, and it’s just too much. I can’t bear it anymore. If he wasn’t coming towards me, I’d flee the room right now. But I simply can’t reject him like this. Whatever his intentions are, I want to allow him to reach his goal, which seems to be only to talk to me. Where’s the harm in that? He looks too innocent and too transparent to have hidden intentions. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, and I don’t know either, but I don’t have the heart to stop him. What if he’s attracted to me? He has a girlfriend, is that all the moral fault I hold against him? What if I’m attracted to him? Pragmatically thinking, it’s easier for her to find a new dark-haired boyfriend back in Western Europe, where she lives, than for me to meet another guy I feel attracted to. She’s done everything she wished; she’s gone to paradise to live her dream, not caring about who’s left behind. I know I extol Ukraine as if everything was perfect here, but I’m not blind. I know it’s hard to stay and I didn’t mind it till now. I’d never felt it was a sacrifice till now. Now I know that she gets to go back to her first world country with her exotic boyfriend while I stay here, struggling to lift Ukraine up, while my romantic life is non-existent. I’ve also read books about exotic countries and I’ve been enthralled by love stories with dark, mysterious characters. I’m also human and I’m sorry to show it all of a sudden. I’m sorry to prove to everyone that I’m not an ice queen whose heart is immune to men’s charm. I’m scared of the consequences of these feelings. I just want the wedding to end, with all its merriness, so I can deal with these emotions that are choking me to the point that I couldn’t even answer to Sonya’s remarks, when she was evidently expecting an answer from me. Fortunately their merriness didn’t allow the hiccup of my silence to alter the allegro rhythm of their conversation. He’s coming directly towards me! What am I going to do?!
I’ve just said: “Hello, what’s your name?”. It’s all my strained nerves would allow me to say, and without even the minimal gallantry required for it not to be awkward. But the results just paralyzed me with stupor. I’m being literal; I can’t move a muscle right now. I’m standing in front of her and she’s sobbing with her face buried in her hands. She’s cried for a few seconds now, which wouldn’t have been noticeable by itself, were it not that a foreigner is standing right in front of her. Her table companions first noticed me and I actually managed to steal their attention for a few seconds, which would have been enough if she’d stopped crying on time, but she doesn’t seem eager to pull herself together, and a few girls have already noticed her odd answer to a simple question. One of them is has just sat beside her and has probably asked her what’s wrong, but she’s just left the table in a hurry. She’s wiped her face before leaving and she is walking with such composure that I think everyone at the table believe, the same as me, that it was just a smart maneuver to avoid talking to me. Now the girl who sat beside her is looking at me apologetically. After a few seconds she tells me something in Ukrainian or Russian or Chinese, who the hell cares at this moment, which I can’t understand. I guess she apologized for her friend and invited me to wait for her, but I can’t stand the humiliation. However, my madness, instead of dying from the vicious wound inflicted by this star actress, it’s actually exacerbated by it, and I’m happy to play the role of the wounded lion chasing after his victim. So I ran after her, literally, to make up for my slow reaction. I didn’t even see the faces of the people around, but I guess I would’ve found expressions of blank astonishment. People are so predictable anyway and life is too short to care about such idiotic details.
Fortunately no one followed us: It seems to be an Ukrainian tradition to let people play out their emotions without intervening. She’s gone into the ladies’ bathroom and I’ve stopped outside for a moment. Not that I’m considering the inappropriateness of entering the ladies’ to harass a crying girl; I’m simply giving myself a few seconds to summon up courage. The saying goes: Animals are more afraid of you than you are of them, which in this case is diametrically true: I’m totally scared of this wild animal, even though I’m aware of being the beast of prey at the moment. I feel like a pathetic panther, halting in fear in front of a defenseless, wounded deer.
Why am I so pitiful? I don’t have the courage to do what I want, to be spontaneous and lighthearted. Why do I need to complicate everything? What kind of new hysteria was that? A handsome guy just asked my name and I ran away crying. Am I four years old? Why can’t I be the heroine of my life story and behave self-assuredly? Why can’t I play the game nonchalantly like many other girls do? He came to me; I’m not responsible for his actions. It’s not my fault that he’s enthralled by me, or infatuated, as the pusillanimous like to say. The coward like to misuse words like infatuation, because they’re too scared of life. Infatuation etymologically means foolish behavior, so it should be applied to every person who is in love. We don’t behave rationally when we’re really in love, unless reason encompasses the sacrifice of our self-interest for the non-binding promise of happiness. The acceptance of all such risk is always fatuous, from a material point of view. Tell me of one person who hasn’t gone out of their way to be with the person they want, and then you can say that person hasn’t been infatuated. We may be aware of our foolishness and perform our foolish act deliberately, like when we play with dogs and small kids, but nonetheless we’re fools; we’re actively infatuated.
He’s being irrational then; the sensible thing for him to do would be to forget about me and try to make it work with his girlfriend, or at least to transition more smoothly into another relationship, and not try to hook up with someone on her sister’s wedding. But this is the only chance we got: This wedding, this moment, this life. What else is beyond this other than tedium and regret? I’m foolishly defending her interests by fleeing from him. I’m a fool one way or another, so I prefer to be a selfish fool. I was too overwhelmed at the table, in front of everyone. His eyes were like a mirror in which I saw my pathetic image. I’m Cinderella, the damsel in distress, but I’ve been so careless that now my prince is not single anymore. Should I just give up my happiness? Do I deserve loneliness as a punishment for my negligence? And how long will this punishment last? I don’t believe in soul mates; this is not the issue here. I just believe in my feelings, and I haven’t felt anything like this before. May it be just circumstances? A wedding, my age and a subconscious alarm which has just gone off inside me? Maybe this is not the end but the beginning of my new, more aware life. The stinging sensation in my face has stopped and my eyes aren’t even red. He’s waiting outside; I heard him come after me. I know it was him; the footsteps betrayed a hurried but scared man, someone who didn’t want to lose me from sight, but who didn’t dare to catch up with me.
She’s coming out of the toilet, looking at me impassively. The few seconds she’s taking to walk up to me are a flash of eternity. It really feels like the representation of a whole life waiting for her to finally reach me. She’s finally stopped, obscenely near me; she’s flaunting her beauty to me. She talks: “I’m Lana, and you?”
“I’m Ema,” I say. In Argentina, we tend to introduce ourselves with our full first names, and not with some nickname. I know if I google Lena I’ll find what her real name is, because the nicknames are already set in Slavic languages. It’s not like in Spanish; there are some conventional nicknames, like Paco and Pepe, but we just improvise the rest. In my case, I’m Ema, which is simply the apheresis of Emanuel. But I don’t think she can find this information on the Internet, since it didn’t come from an official chart of nicknames, but simply from the convenience of shortening a long name. My second nickname is even more esoteric: kachu. It was born in my circle of friend back in Argentina, when Pokemon was popular. We didn’t watch the cartoon, but this didn’t prevent one of my friends to joke about my hair looking like Pikachu had just released electricity, because all the pokemons and people around got their hair on end whenever this happened. And as I have a rebellious hair till today, that nickname hasn’t complete disappeared and sadly enough, if someone shouted Kachu in the street today, I ‘d subconsciously turn around. But I didn’t want to be so mean to her; although introducing myself as Kachu wouldn’t be much different from her introducing herself as Lana. Right now I can think of a thousand possibilities for her name: Olana, Alana, maybe Aldana or Helena; I really have no idea since I don’t even know what the common Ukrainian names are how they shorten them. So Lana has right now no value to me; she could’ve as well told me: “I’m an Ukrainian girl,” and I would have an equivalent amount of information about her right now. Anyway, it’s not her fault that I don’t know all the Ukrainian nicknames and their equivalents by heart; I actually should be grateful that she spoke English to me. And she’s so beautiful; I’d forgive her even if she ended every phrase with: “you, piece of shit,” as long as she looks at me with those eyes.
“Is it Aldana?” I say, trying to redeem her fault. I don’t say anymore; I don’t like explaining myself too much. We’re talking about our names, so she should get it if she’s lucid enough. “No,” she says, opening widely her eyes in that alarmed gesture which shows apology for an oversight. Now I’ve more than forgiven her; I already admire her. She’s very intelligent; she reads me like an open book. “I’m Svetlana,” she says, and now I’m wondering what that name means. It resembles the word “światło”, which means “light” in Polish, so I guess her name means “radiant”, which is the perfect word to call her by. “Ty prawdziwa svetla,” I say in a mixture of Polish and the little Russian intuition I have, hoping it has some meaning at all, and she smiles knowingly.
“Why did you cry?” I blurted out. I know, I’m not good at small talk, but at least I’m bold enough to chase after a girl whose look paralyzes me with fear. So I’m pleased with myself at the moment; provided I utter some coherent sounds when she isn’t speaking, I’m proud of my great courage. Well, I could also just give half a step forward and try to kiss her; it’s actually plan A, but courage has its limits.
At last I feel I’ve faced my destiny. It’s a strong feeling that doesn’t happen often. My career choice was also part of my destiny; I’m sure of it, but it was done carefully over a long period. This decision, on the contrary, was done precipitately and recklessly, which makes the feeling of destiny be stronger. I told him my name and he played with it in a sentence. His name is Ema, and I want to know more about him. I can’t guess where he’s from by his name or accent. Why did I cry? What to say?
“I’m embarrassed. Forgive me, I’ve just imposed myself on you. I didn’t want to make a scene of it. I feel so silly now: Like a girl whose never talked to a guy before. So please don’t ask me why I cried; it’s just personal emotions I’m embarrassed of. Please pretend that didn’t happen.”
He’s staring bewildered. May it be that he just came to my table to make friends with his girlfriend’s guests? May I have misunderstood his looks? How presumptuous of me! To think that no man is immune to my charms! A man comes to initiate a friendly chat and I already weave a tale in which he cheats on his girlfriend with me.
I know I should’ve pretended that you didn’t cry and that you didn’t look at me for longer than socially acceptable. But what could I do? I was euphoric; I had smelled blood and it drove me crazy. I was afraid you might be just flirting with me, but then you cried and puzzled me. Whether you did it consciously or subconsciously so we could be here alone, it was brilliant, because now we can poor our hearts out. You’ve said enough; I’ve understood every spoken and every tacit word. You have imposed yourself on me, that’s true, but not for an evening: Forever. That elusive word: Forever, what do we humans know about eternity? Am I exaggerating when I use this word to refer to my feelings for you? And if I die tomorrow from some silly accident? Or if I decide that I can’t be happier than now and I’m willing to trade the rest of my life for the equivalent repetition of this moment? Isn’t that forever in human terms? Because what do we know, whether we live one or a hundred years more? We know nothing about facts; we only know about feelings. We can’t predict how much time there will be, washing away our old feelings and washing ashore renewed ones. We know nothing about the consistency of our feelings; we only know that time flows eternally and that we can be eternal if we don’t expect anything else anymore, if time loses its value for us. And this spark of eternity in me dares me to speak the word “forever”.
But how to best express this word? How to put it into a most meaningful sentence? I should say: “I feel eternity with you,” but I don’t know why, I don’t say it. Can you utter eternity after all? Or is it a profound silence? Would I be breaking this eternal moment by clumsily speaking about my feelings? Besides, how can I know that it’s a shared moment and not only a unilateral sensation? How can I know that at this very moment, the things she’s just said aren’t being washed away by a Tsunami of doubts and concerns? How can I stop time for her as it’s stopped for me? All the muscles of my body feel the rigor of the moment while I try to thrust them forward, encroaching upon her. It’s only been one tenth of a second, but time has not its usual meaning; there’s a big bang of events which would take me a whole life to describe. In the rest of that second, I decelerate my head so it won’t collide with her face and I part my lips wide enough to fit her lower lip between them. A flash of her wide-open eyes is caught by my eyes, which are busy taking aim at her lips. The momentum of the initial impulse is stopped when the pressure between our lips creates high enough warmth: A little more and I feel I might burn; a little less and there would be stratospheric coldness between us. Now we’re connected in a single emotion, sharing a moment of eternity.
He kissed me. For a moment my mind stopped working, and how blissful I was. It was just a moment, but it was like tearing reality apart. All my petty concerns were stripped of their tragicalness and I was left with a badly plotted drama. There’s nothing as simple as happiness, but we deambulate all our lives looking for it. If we could just stop rushing for a moment, stop the senseless pursue of happiness to feel the happiness that envelops us. I hear music; the bridal party is being announced. I kiss him this time and tell him: “Let’s go to the party.” I need to let him go; he isn’t mine after all. I lead him by the hand and before we enter the salon, I turn around to him and tell him: “Behave. Don’t forget about other people’s feelings.” He’s reluctant to let go of my hand, but I show resolution.
The band starts playing the wedding march and the newlyweds make their entrance to the reception hall. Their parents and the starostys receive them at the door and they gift them with bread, wine, honey and salt, which represent nature’s bounty, prosperity, the sweetness and the necessities of life respectively. They make a toast and the couple is announced to the party. I’m sitting at my table and waiting for our turn to greet the couple. He’s taken his place beside Julia and is exchanging a few words with her; I don’t want to look so I focus on the couple and the happiness they’re sharing with all of us. The turn of our table arrives; we all stand up and congratulate them. We pose for the picture and they go to the next table. When the couple finishes greeting the guests, one table starts singing Mnohaya Lita: Many years, and the rest of the tables join in.
I think euphoria: The power of enduring easily, is the word to best describe my current feelings. I’m fearless at the moment; I’m enjoying the party, mindless of what he might be doing. It’s as if we had been irrevocably bonded and now it didn’t really matter what we do anymore, since we’re going to end up together one way or another. But I’m totally aware of the circumstances: I’m at a wedding party and I must celebrate the couple’s happiness. It’s not difficult to go with flow; Tania is sharing her enthusiasm and some gossip with me, while Lyalya is making us all laugh with her witty observations about the wedding.
The food was excellent. They’ve taken away the dishes and moved the tables from the dancing floor. Yana has danced with her father and now she’s dancing with Illya to the song Everything by Michael Buble, beautifully played by the band. After the song finishes, we all join in and start dancing the Horila sosna, palala in groups. Some couples are formed, and another traditional song is played: Byla mene maty. Our group is practically disintegrated by men coming from everywhere and stealing my friends. All of a sudden, it’s my turn to be stolen by one of Yana’s cousins whose name I can’t recall. We dance in couple for a couple of minutes and then come back to the place where my original circle was, but by now there’s no trace of it. The song ends and I take advantage of this moment to thank my partner for the dance and head towards my table. The song Nese Halia vodu starts playing and I feel a hand on my waist. I turn around and it’s him, offering me his other hand in a dancing gesture; his expression is grave, but his eyes are full of cheerfulness. His look is peremptory and playful at the same time, like the look of a kamikaze who, in the middle of his mission, remembers a funny joke. There’s nothing else to worry about now; we both know our heart’s desire and our feelings are requited. There are no more anxieties to quench, so this dance is mere pleasure, a carefree amusement. While we dance he asks “Would you come back with me to Poland?” I answer “My place is in Ukraine.” He seems absorbed in thoughts for a few seconds, as if calculating some equation. Then he says “Would you like me to stay here?” I’m astonished, because it’s exactly what I want. It seems so simple to me that I haven’t even thought about it. My only concern now is to avoid ruining this happy moment for anyone. “Yes, I’d really like that,” I say, and we go on dancing till the song ends. “Please walk me to my table,” I ask him, and he does.
Since we kissed I haven’t thought of anything else but how to be with her. I couldn’t care less about this party, but she asked me to behave, so she obviously cares. Her friends and family may be here, and she doesn’t want to hurt anyone. On my part, I’d prefer to avoid upsetting Ukrainian people, since I don’t know what they’re capable of. Besides, they’re all so genuinely merry; I don’t want to poop on this party. I go back to the table. Julia is here already. She’s bound to find out that I fell in love with her sister’s friend. It’s easier in a big city, where you break up with someone and you’ll probably not see them again in your life. It feels awkward to me to start something with my current girlfriend’s sister’s friend, but I guess people are used to these kinds of situations here and there won’t be any issue.
The dancing starts. First the bride with her father, then the couple, and now everyone is on the dancing floor. We do some strange Ukrainian folk dance; the music is very nice though. Couples start to form, and I avoid getting near Julia so we won’t end up dancing together. Fortunately someone has grabbed Julia and they’re dancing now. I look for Svetla, but unfortunately she’s taken. I get aside the dancing floor and lean on an empty table. The song ends and she gets rid of the man. I intercept her when she’s walking to her table. The song is perfect; I can only understand “Ty taka horosha… a ty z mene.” “You are with me, oh good girl,” I hear while I look at the girl in front of me: “Come with me to Poland” I say, but she belongs to Ukraine. I won’t let such a small detail deter me, so I change strategy: I’ll stay instead. How bad can it be? There will surely be some advantage to living unhinged from the mainstream capitalistic market, maybe cheap housing. Food here is even cheaper than in Poland, where you can buy a kilo of potatoes for less than 50 cents of a Euro. Every person who has the possibility of getting some income from abroad is basically rich here. I’d still prefer to stay in Poland, or emigrate somewhere where it pays off to take a job, but my Bohemian character propels me towards jobless options. Life is really short anyway, and the only thing I really need is some roof and food to be able to write my stories.
She asks me to accompany her to her table. She introduces me in Ukrainian to the few girls present. I guess she said something like “He’s a guest from Argentina.” Then she gives me a glass of wine and proposes a toast. I sip from the glass and I’m prepared to leave, so it wouldn’t be too suspicious, when she takes the glass away from me, sneaking a folded paper napkin into my hand. I look around; no one seemed to notice. Her surreptitious look tells me all I need to know. I go back to my table and unfold the napkin stealthily. I copy the phone number written there into my phone and we can call it a day. Now I just have to wait till the first chance to call her. I’m done taking risks for the night. I’m not an adventurous person, so the possibility of being caught red handed doesn’t particularly get me thrilled. I allege some stomach problems to be able to sit out the rest of the soiree and read something on my phone while I take furtive glances at her. There are some things from the party that call my attention, though: Sporadic and opportune shouts of “girko” by random groups of people, which don’t stop till the couple kisses. I ask Julia what that word means and she tells me: “bitter,” and Neruda’s phrase comes immediately to my mind: “The wine is less bitter in your lips”, so I guess it means something like: The groom looks too bitter; he should kiss the bride. But Julia doesn’t allow my thoughts to simmer. She has this annoying habit of not knowing when an explanation is redundant. She tells me that it means that the horilka is too bitter and that the party won’t drink it until the groom kisses the bride, and then she gives me a look as if everything made sense to me now. I’m really annoyed at this moment; she’s compounded the impropriety of asking a question that I haven’t asked by giving me an explanation that makes no sense at all, besides adding a new unknown word: horilka. It’s like if someone asks you the meaning of a French word and you tell them the Chinese equivalent. The annoyance shows in my face, I’m sure, but words of criticism fail to come out of my mouth; I really don’t know where to start from. She has a nice disposition, though, I must grant her that, so when she realizes that her explanation was unsatisfactory, she corrects one of her mistakes by adding: “Horilka is a traditional beverage, but it’s also what we call any strong alcohol, like vodka.” Ok, now I’m not so upset, but still, it makes no sense. I mean, now my vexation was not towards her as much as towards all Ukrainian people. “What horilka has to do with anything? Why in hell do they make such awful drinks if then they’re going to complain about their bitterness? Vodka is not supposed to be sweet, so it just makes no sense to me; besides, how the groom kissing the bride will affect the sweetness of everyone’s horilka? Unless everyone kisses the bride, I don’t think this may happen. It’s well known to every poet that a girl’s sweetness is only transmitted by direct kissing and not by watching her kiss someone else. If Julia had said: horilka is a sort of wine or sweet vodka, the main tenet of this phrase would at least be right, but vodka is not wine and that’s why it’s not used in poems to show sweetness. If she’d started by saying: “It’s an illogical saying” or at least if she’d shown confusion when she explained it, but no; she just blurted it out as if she was exposing some well known Newtonian principle, confidence emanating from her lips. Sweet horilka my ass! At least now I have a reason to break up with her: Not knowing the poetic nuances of alcoholic beverages.
The rest of the party passed uneventfully. After hours of endless merriment, the corovay was cut and finally Yana’s mother covered her with a kerchief, symbol of becoming a wife. Ema couldn’t make it till the end; he left before the perekuska. It was a waste of bigos, varenyky and holubtsi which I would’ve gladly taken away with me, but which at that moment looked completely unappetizing. We got home at 2 am, which gave us just the enough amount of time to recover energies for the popravyny. The alarm went off at 9, but no one woke up. At ten I stumbled to the kitchen to poor some tea, which the sweet Lyalya had made. By eleven we were already leaving for the luncheon, although we wondered how our stomachs would manage to hold the food down.
I hadn’t even touched the warmed up food they put in front of me. I was just having a slice of cake with my cup of tea, when Ema touched my shoulder. Tania had just stood up to go and talk with a friend of hers, so he took the empty place beside me. I hadn’t seen him nor Julia before, so I was wondering why they couldn’t make it. He spoke in a confidential tone: “I told her about my feelings for you.” I was aghast. What might she be thinking of me? How did she react? “And what happened?” I asked. “It was a long night, but finally all feelings were settled. She is to go back to Poland without me. I’ll stay as long as you wish me here.” “Where is she now? Is she OK?” “Yes, she’s sleeping right now. By the time we finished talking it was already 8am. I slept about five hours and then I came here. What’s this?” he said, pointing to the varenyky in my dish. “They’re called varenyky,” I said. “I think they’re filled with meat or cabbage.” And he grabbed one with his hand and ate it in one bite. Then he took the rest of them, but once he finished, he didn’t seem interested in the bigos or the holubtsi which were also on the table. “Talking all night gets you hungry,” he said smiling. He made it seem so natural to be eating from my dish at his girlfriend’s sister’s popravyny. I yielded to the moment and started asking him questions about his life, his passions and fears, while I also opened myself to him. It was a placid afternoon followed by an auspicious week. He stayed and we found a place to live together. My life in Ukraine is now a paradise, a paradise I’m helping to build.
It’s been years now since I met Svetla. We found a nice place near her family and life couldn’t be better. I’m reading Kant’s Perpetual Peace at the moment, which presents a new point of view from which to look at the Ukrainian nation. Kant argues that democracy is the least republican system of government, because the minorities aren’t represented. The only way to achieve representation in democracies is through revolutions. An autocrat who serves selflessly his people would be more beneficial for a country, according to this view. So now the Ukrainian people’s unrest, their constant manifestations against their governments don’t seem so insane to me. They just prioritize representation over democracy, and the building of strong republics is the only way towards perpetual peace, according to Kant.
Svetlana gave me a wonderful boy and a beautiful girl. Our rural life is all a writer can ask for. She’s the main breadwinner, but I try to pull my weight. I grow all kinds of vegetables in my orchard and I’ve learned to make wine from every fruit that grows around. I couldn’t imagine a happier life than mine.