Winds by Zdravka Evtimova
“Will you go to Sylvia ’s again?” her mother asked her more than a year ago.
“Yes,” Veta said and went out.
That was how her fib-telling started and she’d kept it up ever since. There was no Sylvia . She named her loneliness Sylvia so her mother did not worry that Veta was alone all the time. Most often she remained in the library where the air smelled of beautiful paper dust, of poems which slept between the pages, of writers, forgotten long time ago between the thick dusty covers of the books. Veta knew them all. Her loneliness waited for her in the park, too; it was tucked down the long alley that started from Lolita café and led to the railway station: a very insignificant railway station where the fast trains from Sofia to Greece didn’t stop, only the slow ones did, once a day. The trains rocked their wagons like dark clouds that moaned under the burden of human electricity. The alley was lined with poplar trees, their branches thick with ravens: black rivets that nailed the afternoon shut. She often walked along the narrow platform, sat on the bench on which dozens of guys had scrawled dirty words, and many “Ivan + Tanya = love”, but Veta didn’t read the dirty remarks and didn’t calculate who plus who made love. Her loneliness was soft and quiet, there were ravens and sun in it and warm empty rails that reached the end of Bulgaria, and went on to the clouds in Greece. She called her loneliness Sylvia after that thin, black-eyed girl from second grade who she tauåght at school.
The girl still couldn’t read. She managed to spell and utter only the short three-letter nouns but Veta loved the fairy tales the girl made up, tossing and pulling at those short, short words. Veta told the child, “Read this.” Sylvia spelled out: “horse”, “child”, “moon” and the horse suddenly learnt to fly. After a minute it hurtled off to the moon, where a little naughty child lived in a very peculiar house: its roof was built of sun’s rays and its walls were white clouds. Veta’s loneliness was a soft summer afternoon with rain in it, a small railway station, dark poplars, and ravens that knit in the clouds terrific nets of courage with their black wings.
“My mother is in Italy,” the girl told her one day. “She takes care of an old woman there. My grandmother is here, in Bulgaria, and she looks after a toddler boy in Sofia. Listen, I hate the long words,” Sylvia admitted. “The letters are too heavy for them and they can’t run. I forget what they are up to while I spell them. That’s why I can’t read long words: I hate to wait for them while they linger in their places and can’t move on. They have letters of stones - you can take my word for that.”
“I wish I had grandchildren,” Veta’s mother often said. She had never married. She was a pediatrician in the small provincial hospital in Pernik and took care of the newborn babies. Many winters ago, a one-year old girl, Veta by name, was dying from viral pneumonia. The doctor didn’t go home until the toddler gradually stopped running temperature and started sipping at its milk. Before the doctor adopted the child, she called her own loneliness Sofia after the capital of Bulgaria. After work, she went to the cinema or to theatre in Sofia, or simply mooned around the streets till after dinnertime.
“Perhaps we could think of somebody… a man you’d love to see or talk to,” the pediatrician said to her daughter. “The management appointed a young neurologist in the hospital a couple of moths ago. We could invite him to dinner.”
Of course, they invited him to dinner but the man could stand neither the ravens nor the railway station. He adored long words that had many letters in them and couldn’t run at all. His mouth transformed them into threatening diagnoses which could kill anybody. In the middle of the dinner Veta excused herself and left her mother and the young neurologist with their beefsteaks and sauté potatoes.
“Why did you do that?” her mother asked her in the morning. “It was not polite to run away on Doctor Tomov like that. You insulted him. Well… Don’t repeat my mistake, please. A woman should have a child. You simply… Listen, find somebody for several weeks. Later you can go away. You and I will take care of the little one together.”
“But…”Veta began. “No. I wouldn’t like that.”
“You call your loneliness Sylvia ,” the doctor said. “You’ve learnt that from me. I’ll ask Doctor Ivanov to dinner tomorrow. He’s divorced.”
“I won’t be at home tomorrow in the evening,” Veta said.
In the afternoons she remained in the teachers’ room with Sylvia . The two of them read fairytales from Sylvia ’s ABC book or solved problems about trains and sparrows.
“Miss Toneva,” Sylvia said once. “You’d better have your own child because I learned to read long words. They are no longer full of stones. I even think some of them taste of chocolate. You can teach your child when you have one. What do you think?”
“It’s not that easy…”
“Yesterday your Mom came to see me at school,” the girl interrupted her. “Is it true you go to that small railway station every day? Why? The fast trains don’t stop there and the canteen selling chocolate wafers is never open.”
“I like the poplar trees,” Veta said.
“Your Mom asked me to find a guy who liked poplar trees and ravens for you,” the child added.
“That would be silly,” Veta said. “Now let’s solve the problem about the two boats on page 67.”
“Listen, I know such a guy. He’s very tall. I’ll show him to you. Your Mom says she wants you to have friends. Look at me, I have many friends and I’m Okay. Come on, I’ll solve the problem about the two boats by myself. If it’s too difficult, Grandma will help me. Look, is it true that you call the ravens, the station and the poplar trees after me? You can’t call a raven Sylvia , and you can’t call the rails Sylvia . Call them simply “station”, “rails” and “ravens”. Come with me.”
Sylvia who looked small for her seven years and her teacher started off down the alley that went to Lolita café.
“Here he is,” Sylvia said and pointed at the newsstand. A very tall man stood behind the heaps of bright pictures and titles of the newspapers. The girl rushed to him and said, “Here she is. She likes ravens like you.”
The man fumbled in his pockets and gave the child a candy bar.
“No, I don’t want it,” the girl declared. “I love her. I didn’t bring her here for your candies. I don’t want her to stay alone with the rails. She’d better stay with you - never mind you are so tall.”
Veta turned around and walked away down the alley.
The man left his newspapers, caught up with Veta, reached for her arm and said, “That child’s been telling me you like ravens. She’s been repeating this for two months now.”
“I have to hurry,” Veta said.
“I love the railway station where you go every day. I’ve seen you there.”
“I haven’t seen you,” Veta said.
"Sylvia offered to give me her box of crayons if I asked you out on a date. She said, 'You are very tall, but she'll like you all the same.' She also said you knew words that could fly."
Veta was about to leave when the newsagent added, "I want you to know that I need a box of crayons badly."
She turned around and looked at him, not knowing what to say. The sky was thick with spring winds and the river flowed quietly not far away from the road.
"I wonder if I could buy you a cup of coffee this evening," the man went on. "If you are busy, I can wait."
His face waited. The winds and the spring waited, too.
Veta smiled. She didn't know why.
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