ANA VIDOSAVLJEVIC - SHORT-STORIES
Ana Vidosavljevic from Serbia currently living in Indonesia. She has her work published or forthcoming in Down in the Dirt (Scar Publications), Literary Yard, RYL (Refresh Your Life), The Caterpillar, The Curlew, Eskimo Pie, Coldnoon, Perspectives, Indiana Voice Journal, The Raven Chronicles, Setu Bilingual Journal, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Madcap Review, The Bookends Review, Gimmick Press, (mac)ro(mic). She worked on a GIEE 2011 project: Gender and Interdisciplinary Education for Engineers 2011 as a member of the Institute Mihailo Pupin team. She alsoattended the International Conference “Bullying and Abuse of Power” in November, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic, where she presented her paper: “Cultural intolerance”.
A Wolf's Tooth
All the other shepherds returned to the villages long time ago. But it was a nice late August day and Vlado wanted to stay a bit longer on the green slopes of the Carpathian Mountains.
Just before the sun started setting, he heard his dog Rorik barking angrily. It was not a regular Rorik's barking. It was getting higher and higher in pitch and Vlado knew that Rorik was getting more upset with every new barking sound. Vlado was listening carefully where his dog's voice came from and when he was on his way to the southern side of field, the barking became growling. Anger mixed with fear. And it didn't last long. After a few minutes, Rorik was helplessly yelping. Vlado's heart was beating fast. He was calling his dog almost in panic. He knew what was going on. Rorik must have been surrounded by wolves. Vlado was scared. He had seen them many times. They would appear somewhere in distance, like silhouettes, they would appear and disappear in woods and bring a commotion among the sheep.
This time, Vlado heard terrified bleating. His sheep was frightened of the wolves. Vlado prayed his sheep to stay together. He knew very well how wolves tried to split sheep from their flock. They knew that a sheep was helpless if singled out. Vlado was scared but he tried to remain calm. Rorik was still yelping and screaming as if in fear and pain but Vlado couldn't leave the flock. He stayed close to his sheep holding the stick in his right hand and looked around. Glowing eyes were flashing from the woods. He couldn't count them well but there were at least six pairs of those devilish eyes. If he had only had a rifle!
He was squeezing the wolf's tooth in his pocket and he thought about his father. That same tooth was his father's trophy. He had killed the biggest wolf in these mountains. No one had remembered seeing bigger and more ferocious creature in the Carpathian Mountains. And the tooth was the proof. It was long and sharp like those that, once upon a time, saber-toothed tigers had had.
People in the village said that that wolf had been hunted and chased for many years by many good hunters and it always had managed to trick them and run away. But Vlado's father had got it. And he had become a local legend in the Carpathian Mountains. His father had died but he had left this tooth to his youngest son, Vlado. And Vlado carried it everywhere and kept it close as if it had been some kind of lucky charm that protected him and encouraged him.
Even this time, when fear crept through his body and paralyzed his legs, he squeezed the tooth and whispered: “I'm not afraid of you.”
He dug deep into his pocket and took matches. He had to make a torch. He grabbed one of the greener sticks he had, and coated the end of the stick with the bark from the tree nearby under which he had been resting earlier. Then, he took off his T-shirt, tore it off, and one piece of it started wrapping around the end of the stick until it created a bulge in the cloth and tucked in the end of the cloth. It took him few minutes to light his torch since his torn-off T-shirt was a bit sweaty. It was hot outside and he had worn it the whole day. When, finally, he managed to light the torch, he started running towards the woods where he had seen those scary eyes. And he saw them again. They were kind of moving but they didn't seem scared by him and his torch. The villagers talked that there were those wolves which were not scared of men. They were demons. The villagers believed that they could devour within minutes a grown-up man.
Vlado was slowly approaching the woods holding the torch high over his head. He knew he was not supposed to leave his flock alone. He had to stay close to it and protect his sheep. He was waving the torch around hoping to make the wolves back up. But they were not backing up further.
On the contrary, one of the wolves, with the hunger in his eyes and sharp canines protruding out over his lower lip, approached slowly the flock. The sheep started moving backwards. They were petrified. The sight of an approaching predator made their blood run cold. And while the other sheep were moving in the opposite direction from the wolf, one of them remained motionless. It seemed as if the wolf's glowing eyes had paralyzed it. Vlado started yelling and running towards the wolf. He yelled so loudly that the whole mountain echoed. He grabbed a rock and threw it with all the strength he could gather directly at the wolf. But it was late. The wolf attacked the sheep and grabbed its rear leg. The poor sheep was whirling and bleating desperately. For a moment Vlado felt hopeless and tears started filling his eyes. He squeezed the wolf's tooth so tightly that it almost cut his palm.
And then, all of a sudden, Vlado heard the sound of rifle fire. The wolf fell back down. But then it stood up again and leaped towards the woods. The bullet probably just wounded the wolf.
But it was not a deadly wound.
Vlado turned around and saw his brothers running towards him. His oldest brother, Stevo, carried the rifle. He asked Vlado if he was all right and when Vlado nodded, they hurried towards the wounded sheep. The middle brother, Anton, was already there and he was holding the sheep. “It will survive, but not sure what will be with its leg. It is totally destroyed.” The blood was dripping down the sheep's leg leaving the red spots on Stevo's blue T-shirt and khaki pants. “Maybe we can save it. I will take care of it when we get home.”
Vlado looked at his brothers and the tears of relief ran down his cheeks. He was ashamed of crying in front of them, but they understood how it felt to be surrounded by those ferocious animals.
Stevo patted Vlado's back and tried to calm him down. “You did well. You managed to save all the sheep. And I am telling you, there were more than six wolves out there. They could have devoured not only the sheep but you as well.” But Vlado was afraid that he couldn't save Rorik. He headed toward the place where previously he had heard Rorik sad yelping. When he came close to the place, he saw the bloody traces on the ground and just few meters further, Rorik was laying helplessly. He knelt and touched his dog. Rorik's body was still warm, but his heart was not beating.
Vlado couldn't save him. His heart ached. Rorik had died in pain. But he had tried to protect Vlado and the sheep. Vlado breathed in deeply and then breathed out a sorrowful puff of air.
Only then, Vlado realized that he was still squeezing tightly the wolf's tooth. He released the grip and took it out of his pocket. He was grateful to have it. But he was more grateful to have his brothers.
Vera's mother, Mrs. Schmidt, suddenly entered the house, slamming the door as always. Her fierce movements, noise that she made, and loud talk, always disturbed Vera's peacefulness.
This time, Mrs. Schmidt approached the kitchen table at which Vera was sitting and eating a bowl of cereals, and placed the book “How to Awaken the Divine Feminine within You” on the table in front of Vera.
“What's this?” Vera cried irritated and shocked.
“Well, dear, I think it is really important that you start doing something with your life. Look at you! Twenty-two years old and still wearing some baggy T-shirt, two sizes bigger jeans and white socks! Disaster! And look at your hair! An absolute mess! As if someone had put fireworks in it. I am not surprised you can't find a boyfriend. No decent young man wants to date a tomboy.”
Mrs. Schmidt turned around and went out through the kitchen door toward her bedroom leaving the strong fragrance of flowery perfume behind her.
For many years, Mrs. Schmidt had tried to help her daughter wake up her femininity and find a proper boyfriend or any boyfriend at all. She was afraid Vera would become a spinster. Old, ugly, alone. She couldn't accept that her daughter was so much different than her. Mind you, her father had been exactly the same. Even though, he had passed away when Vera was only two years old, he embedded his character and behavior in her for good. But what she didn't know was that Vera had a boyfriend. And Vera's decision not to tell her was reasonable. Her mother would never accept Frank.
Vera met Frank when she was watching a local football match. Every Sunday one of two local football teams was playing on the only stadium in Blanktown. Vera loved football and she was also the member of the local female football team. Anyway, Blankville was a small place and there was not much to do. Kids and young people played tennis, football, volleyball or they rode bicycles.
Vera loved not only football. She loved rugby, baseball, wrestling, boxing. Those were the sports not many girls enjoyed, but Vera was a unicorn. She wore baggy clothes, a bit over-sized but comfortable. She felt fine in those loose-fitting clothing pieces. Hew jeans were roomy, but they had never made her sweat and feel confined. Her large T-shirts didn't exaggerate her ample breast and didn't attract much attention as they would have done if she had worn tight clothes. Vera had a
beautiful long blonde hair. Her hair fell loosely to her waist. She had never gone to a hair salon, and she had never used hair sprays, hair gels and hair wax to make her hair look differently than it was.
She liked it long and loose. And even though, it always looked plain and simple, the absence of a hairstyle suited her well. Her big blue eyes gave her a soft, timid look. They had an ocean-color hue which made them special. Her Roman nose was a bit large for her oval face but it didn't destroy her exquisitely imperfect beauty.
The first time Frank saw her on the football stadium, the first thing he noticed were her eyes and nose. He found them so appealing and matching that he couldn't think of ever seeing the facial features more analogous to the epitome of perfection. For him, she was perfect the way she was.
When he saw her that first time, she was sitting in the first row, just behind the football players' bench. Of course, he had to be there as well. He didn't have a choice. There, close to the first row, was the only area for people with disabilities. And he was the one. He was wheelchair bound. Once upon a time, more than ten years ago, he had used to play football. He had been a good player, a striker. But after the car accident, in which his older brother had died, he had been not only left
brotherless but legless as well. Actually, he had legs but they were useless. Their uselessness made him handicapped, or better said, disabled, how certain people talked about him trying not to offend him. Anyway, he had been already offended. Not by people, but by life itself. There were days when he pitied himself and there were days when he hated his wheelchair, his idle legs and everything that made him stranded in the middle of inactivity. For a sportsman, and he had been a committed one, that was the biggest punishment.
When Frank saw Vera, for a moment, he forgot that he was in the wheelchair. He forgot that he was not an ordinary guy, who could casually approach a girl, sit next to her and start conversation. He looked at her and his body started moving as if he would start walking. But while his chest, and his heart that was beating loudly, and his eyes that were fixed on the place where Vera was sitting, moved forward, his legs stayed glued to the wheel chair. He looked down at his useless legs and muttered: “Damn it!” However, Frank didn't want to give up on this girl. Maybe some other girl would discourage him with her stern face, unapproachable attitude and ignorance, but Vera gave him the feeling of easygoingness which she radiated and her omnipresent smile showed him that she celebrated not only the goals during the football match but life itself. It all encouraged him to place his hands on the wheels of his wheelchair and let the chair roll toward Vera. When he came just next to her seat, and luckily, she was at the very end of the row, which made it possible for him to place himself next to her, he started the small talk. She was friendly and accepted this casual chitchat with a stranger, who was, by the way, an innocuous-looking man. They talked and watched the game, and after the game they exchanged phone numbers. That was how their relationship had started.
As the weeks went by, Vera started thinking how to tell her mother that she was seeing someone. There was not an easy way. Her mother desperately wanted her to find a boyfriend but Frank didn't fit in her mother's ideal of a proper man. No matter that her mother was a member of Blanktown Spirit Club which provided funding support for mobility devices for people with disabilities, and she probably had helped Frank get his wheelchair, she would doubtless not be able to accept Frank as her daughter's boyfriend. Her criteria used to approve Vera's boyfriend included “ability to walk”, and Frank failed there. But Blanktown was a small place and sooner or later her mother would find out. Vera preferred telling her directly than waiting her mother to hear the shocking news from some gossip ladies.
The day when Mrs. Schmidt threw the book “How to Awaken the Divine Feminine within You” on the table in front of Vera was probably the good day for Vera to tell her the news. She finished her bowl of cereals, breathed in nervously, stood up, walked to the door of her mother's bedroom and knocked on it.
Mrs. Schmidt yelled: “Come in.”
When Vera entered her mother's bedroom, she found her mother lying in bed with pink hair rollers in her hair which were supposed to make her hair curly. She had been obviously reading a book, but she let it on her nightstand when Vera entered the room. Vera sat on the edge of the bed and just said it without introduction: “I've been seeing Frank lately.”
“Frank who?” Her mother was surprised.
“Frank Marley.” Vera said in a shaky voice.
Her mother’s eyes were wide-open in surprise and bulging out of her head as if she had just seen a ghost. Then, silence followed. To Vera, those moments of silence seemed like eons. Her mother took back her book from the nightstand and continued reading. Or she just pretended that she was reading. Vera noticed that her hands were trembling and she got slight head jerks from the shock and probably anger.
Vera stood up realizing that the conversation was over without any outcome, happy or bad.
But probably it would have been bad, knowing her mother, if Vera had insisted on talking. Vera preferred not to push her mother over the edge of her temper.
The next few days, Mrs. Schmidt avoided talking to her daughter. Actually, she avoided Vera. She would leave before Vera woke up and come back home when Vera was not there. As if she had had spies around the house who had told her when her own daughter hadn't been at home.
Vera knew the silence wouldn't last forever and what she feared was that once that silence was broken it would be shattered into pieces with the fiercest shrapnel of words which would storm out of her mother's mouth. When, finally, that day arrived it was even worse than Vera had expected.
One afternoon, six days after Vera had revealed the unpleasant truth, Mrs. Schmidt came back home earlier than usual and found Vera at home. Her piled up anger burst out immediately she saw her daughter and she said some bad things. She told Vera that she preferred her remaining single until the rest of her life and staying a tomboy without attracting men's attention than dating a crippled man. She told her that she would not have a nice future with Frank. She told her that she
would have to take care of him and that she would be obliged to become a “handicapped man's maid”. And she told her that she, as her mother, couldn't accept that her daughter married an invalid. She told her that she would have to choose between her mother and Frank, and that if she chose Frank, she should leave the house immediately.
Vera couldn't believe what she had just heard. She didn't believe her mother would go so far and say those terrible things. She knew her mother had a weird temper but while listening to those awful things she had just said, she for a moment thought of her mother as an evil witch. She started crying, ran to her room, packed few things in her backpack and ran out of the house weeping. She didn't choose either Frank or her own mother. It was such a cruel thing her mother had asked her to do. But she chose not to live in the same house with this woman she couldn't recognize anymore.
That night she stayed in her friend's place and the very next morning she saw Frank and told him everything. Frank was shocked and hurt. He didn't know what to say or do, but he offered Vera to stay in his house. He wanted to see her smile again.
Vera first refused since he lived in a small house with his parents and grandma. And even with only Frank's family, the house was cramped. She didn't feel comfortable to make it over-cramped. But Frank promised her that it would be just a temporary solution for the next few days until they made a better plan. And that was the truth. He believed that their future looked bright.
After a week of the unpleasant incident, Frank got a job offer in Bloomville. It was a town around nine hundred miles from Blanktown. He was offered a position of sports counselor in a big athletic company which sold football equipment as well as strength and athletic training products. It was a great opportunity for Frank. He offered Vera to move there together and to start a new life.
Even though, Vera was confused and a bit surprised by this offer, she was happy for Frank and felt that she could share her life with this man. It didn't mean that she chose him over her mother, since she didn't want there to be any choice, but she just felt comfortable in his company and didn't want to go back to her mother's place and her mother's constant preaching, especially, after everything Mrs. Schmidt had said.
Within a week, Vera and Frank moved to Bloomville. Frank seemed pretty excited because of the job offer. And he was honestly grateful for the opportunity. Realistically, not many companies offered this kind of positions to people with disabilities. Frank believed he was the lucky one. He thanked his lucky stars. However, he was even happier that Vera had decided to join him. He was growing fonder of her. Since he had met her, things had seemed going well for him. She was his lucky charm.
Vera was pretty excited about the prospect and because of moving to the other town. She was ready for change in her life. It enlivened her mood. But the worm of worry wriggled in her mind. She was hurt by her mother's words and she knew her mother would not make an attempt to bury the hatchet and make up with Vera. Mrs. Schmidt was the woman of principles and no matter how bad those principles were, she didn't want to give up on them. She faithfully followed them like every old-fashioned woman and even if she realized she had made a mistake, she had never apologized. For her, women were meant to be ladies, to embrace and cherish their femininity and wear it as a halo. They were supposed to be gentle, subtle but strong-minded and educated.
Tomboys were outcasts of those feminine circles. And Mrs. Schmidt could not accept the fact that her own daughter had accepted to be an outcast. The culmination of her disappointment in her own daughter was when she started dating a handicapped man. Women were meant to be taken care of, and the men were father figures, head of the families and strong and capable creatures with all limbs perfectly mobile. And what had her daughter decided? To be a maid to an invalid! Mrs. Schmidt couldn't accept this. Somehow, all those years she had been struggling to accept her daughter's tom- boyishness, but this was unacceptable! She loved her daughter and the fact that she was not even a little like her was breaking her heart. She felt more estranged from her daughter than ever.
Vera didn't want to apologize to her mother because she thought there was nothing to apologize for. But she felt the need to tell her mother that she was moving to the other town.
However, Vera was not ready yet to meet her mother. Fresh wounds still hurt her. A day before she left, she had written a short note to her mother informing her about her life change. Vera left the note in the mailbox of their house when her mother was not at home. It might have been a cowardly act but she preferred being a coward in this case than facing another outburst of her mother's anger.
Bloomville was a nice little town. There were the headquarters of few big companies and Frank's company was one of them. During the first two months, Vera and Frank were still settling down in the new town, getting used to the new environment and new people. Vera didn't give up on her baggy T-shirts and jeans and no one seemed to care about it. Bloomville seemed a bit less conservative town than Blanktown. Frank loved his job and after six months of proving that he was a good choice the company's bosses made, Frank came back home to Vera, one Tuesday evening, with the news that his bosses were interesting in interviewing her for the position of assistant marketing manager. The job description, as Frank assured her, completely suited her. And maybe it was not her dream job, but finding a job was one of her priorities since she started feeling lonely and useless while Frank was at work. Frank's salary was more than enough for the two of them, but she wanted to work.
The job interview requested formal clothes, so she had to put up with the pants, shirt and blazer. She liked the interviewers and they liked her. The job was hers! Simple as that!
Vera and Frank led a calm life. They worked from nine to five, sometimes a bit longer, spent evenings cooking food, eating it, drinking wine, watching movies and playing cards. Once in a while, they would go out for a beer with the colleagues from work. Two years went by and they decided that it was time to end the relationship and start a married life. They planned a small wedding with Frank's parents and grandma, colleagues from work and hopefully Mrs. Schmidt.
However, that was something Vera feared. After two years of not talking to her mother, she was not sure how to approach her and how to invite her to the wedding. She doubted her mother would attend it, but she was ready to talk to her and ask the honor of her presence.
One Sunday morning, when she was sure her mother was at home, eating her poached eggs and toast while watching her favorite family show on TV, Vera picked up the phone and called her.
She didn't prepare any speech and she didn't want a long conversation. She was not sure her mother even wanted to talk to her. After few rings, her mother picked up the phone. Vera was sure she didn't expect to hear her daughter's voice. And she was right. Mrs. Schmidt was shocked. But she pretended that she was not. On Vera's “good morning, mother”, she just irritatingly signed and said “good morning”. After ten second of silence which seemed much longer, she asked Vera:
“What is the reason for this phone call?”
“I am getting married, mother. And I would love you to be there.” Vera assuredly said.
Mrs. Schmidt didn't say anything for a long time. Maybe even the whole minute without words passed and Vera finally picked up the courage to say something: “Mother?”
“No, I can't attend your wedding. Good bye, Vera.” Her mother said in a low voice.
Vera was not very surprised. Whatsoever, she expected something like this. What was surprising was the long silence after Vera's invitation. It seemed as if Vera's mother had been taking into consideration the option of attending her daughter's wedding. Maybe that was the proof that her mother had softened up a bit. But Vera had no proofs to believe that.
The wedding ceremony was simple but beautiful. Vera was happy, but not completely. She felt lonely. There was no one from her family to attend the wedding. She was the loneliest girl on her own wedding. And the sparks of sadness flared within her. But no one seemed to notice that.
Maybe only Frank. He kept holding her hand in his, spreading his cozy warmth through her body.
She was grateful he was doing that. She was certain he was the man of her dreams.
However, Vera didn't give up on her mother. The day after the wedding ceremony, she put few wedding photos in an envelope and send them to Mrs. Schmidt. She might throw them away but Vera felt the need to show her that she was happy and that she was lonely during her own wedding day, with no one from her family to walk her down the aisle and to be by her side.
The married life was the same like the unmarried one. Nothing had changed. Vera and Frank continued their lovely routine and whenever they went together they set the example of the perfect couple, smiling, holding hands and giggling to each other's jokes.
Three years went by and Vera hadn't heard from her mother. And one Saturday night at eleven when both Vera and Frank were getting ready to go to bed, a phone ringed. They looked at each other and confused expressions crossed their faces. Vera took the receiver and heard the well- know deep voice of her neighbor back in Blanktown, and a friend of her mother, Mrs. Winterbottom.
Mrs. Winterbottom apologized for calling so late but sadly she had unfortunate news that couldn'twait until morning. Vera's face froze after hearing this and she knew that something was wrong with her mother. Mrs. Winterbottom confirmed Vera's suspicions. She told Vera that her mother had had a heart attack that afternoon and that she was in hospital unconscious. The doctors didn't know what to expect next and they had confirmed that her mother's condition had been critical. Mrs. Winterbottom asked Vera to come to Blanktown as soon as possible. Vera, of course, confirmed that she would be there the very next day and she thanked Mrs. Winterbottom for letting her know.
After hearing the bad news, Vera felt like crying. And she couldn't and didn't want to hold the tears. She let them fall down her cheeks, salty and heavy, and she gave vent to all those repressed emotions connected to her mother and their fight, which had piled up through years and bothered the very soul of hers. She cried for almost an hour, holding Frank's hand and not letting it.
She was scared, scared of losing her mother, who, hard and stubborn as she was, was her only mother.
That night she couldn't sleep at all. She and Frank talked until one in the morning and then, they just laid in bed hugging each other and reassuring each other that everything would be all right.
At four in the morning they stood up, having not slept at all, put the clothes on and headed to the train station to catch the first train to Blanktown. It was a long trip. It took them eighteen hours to reach Blanktown. They arrived to their hometown just before midnight. And unfortunately, they were late.
Mrs. Schmidt had passed away at ten in the morning that day. Her heart muscle had been badly damaged as well as all other vital organs, and after some time her heart had failed. Vera and Frank were devastated, especially Vera, who hadn't managed to see her mother before she had died and try to make peace with her. She wanted to tell her so many things, and she wanted to start all over again their mother-daughter relationship, but it was late now. She didn't even have tears to shed since the previous night she had cried a river.
Vera and Frank stayed in the old Frank's house with his family and early in the morning next day, Vera decided to go to her house alone. Frank knew she needed to be alone for a while and calm down her disturbed mind. He didn't insist on making her company.
When Vera came to the front yard of her house, she stood still there reminiscing about her own childhood. She had been a happy child, a tomboy, an outcast as her mother had called her. Her mother had had a real temper and there had been disagreements between them, but they also had spent some great times together. Vera remembered all those short trips to the zoo, entertainment water parks, coastline snorkeling excursions, botanical gardens. Those had been the best parts of her childhood. And during those trips her mother had been her best friend. That Mrs. Schmidt was the one Vera would always remember.
After few minutes of digesting all those memories and trying to put them in a proper order, Vera entered the house. Everything looked the same as it had been many years ago. Chairs, table, lamps, curtains. Except one thing. In the living room, on the small table with a flower pot and the old black home dial phone, next to the phone receiver, there was a photo from the Vera and Frank's wedding, the one that Vera had sent to her mother. On that photo, Vera and Frank were both smiling looking at each other instead at the camera and they seemed very happy. Vera came closer to the small table and took the photo. She held it in her hands for few moments and then again, she felt that the warm tears started gathering in the corners of her eyes. Her mother had probably accepted the fact that her daughter had loved and married a man with a disability. She had probably forgiven Vera for not being the girl she had wanted her to be. And she had probably loved her and missed her as much as Vera loved and missed her mother. Few tears ran down Vera's face and fell on the glass frame of the photo. Vera wiped the glass and squeezed it in her hands. She sat in the chair next to the window looking outside and thought how sometimes life didn't bring back people to each other but death. And even though she was sad, she knew that her mother had forgiven her. And that was a relief. She had forgiven her for being more different than alike. And what she read on the back side of the photo that probably her mother had written before she had framed the photo, just confirmed Vera's thoughts:
“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find
forgiveness.” - Honore de Balzac
And Vera? Vera had forgiven her mother a long time ago.
Lola cried a river that day. Once her tears burst out, she couldn't stop them. They kept running down her face like the water that escaped its usual boundaries during the flood. The tears also escaped the confines of her body. And they ran freely. They were unstoppable.
The reason, or at least the main reason, the one that was to blame for this flood was the one not habitually occurring. Lola didn't start crying because she was sad or happy. Sadness and happiness had nothing to do with her crying. At least not initially and ostensibly. She cried because she was cutting onions.
She started cutting onions in order to prepare dinner. What seemed some simple house chores turned into uncontrollable weeping, the release of the stinging tears of frustration. Probably piled frustration. And what she noticed was that the stinging was not unpleasant at all. Quite the opposite. The shedding of tears brought her some comfort and solace as if she had just released the burden that had imprisoned her for so long. She had been held captive by distress, heartache, pain.
And just the simple act of cutting onions caused those tormenting emotions to become bearable.
Few months ago, Lola's mother died. Lola's mother, Mrs Kupinski, was Lola's only real friend. She was her mother but the mother's figure was superseded by the fact that she behaved as if she had been Lola's friend. They went to the cinema together, had a couple of drinks in the city's bars, flirted with men, gossiped, traveled and fought over unimportant issues.
Mrs Kupinski's authority over Lola was diminished by the fact that she had never had parents. At least she had never met them. She was an orphan, never adopted and never taken care of. When she was big enough and had to leave the orphanage, to experience the life upheaval or its downfall, to find her own way and create her own home, she was on her own. Completely alone and absolutely bewildered. Fear and confusion led her to the man who neither loved her not wanted her children. He was a member of high society, a broker with social status whose ancestors had been well-known and wealthy. His name was Ted. Ted enjoyed flirting with women and he indulged in casual sex, and when he met Mrs Kupinski, her naivety, innocence and extraordinary beauty impressed him. He told himself that he had to have her, to possess her for some time until he got bored of her. And he seduced her. He was an excellent in winning over women, enticing them, deliberately tricking them and luring them into the trap of false and unrequited love. Once, he lost the interest for Mrs Kupinski, Ted cast her away together with their unborn baby. And he threatened her that he would hurt her if she revealed that the baby was his. His cruelty had no measures. He was brutal in his ignorance of other people's feelings and needs.
Mrs Kupinski, alone, abandoned, rejected and miserable, first felt into the depression hole that seemed like the deep abyss. The dark bottomless pit from which she thought she could never escape. But the baby that was growing in her stomach made her collect her strength and will-power that had still remained in her broken body and soul. She found a job in the local telecommunications company and decided to do everything that was in her power to bring the healthy baby to this world. She ate regularly, avoided conflicts and arguments, slept enough and walked a couple of hours every day. All on her own. The feeling so familiar. But not for long. She looked forward to the day when her baby would be born. And somehow, led by her mother's instinct, she knew that it
would be a girl. And she was right.
Lola was born on a sunny April morning. The birds were chirping, sun rays wriggled
through the air and spring colors which were reflected in the abundance of flowers everywhere welcomed the baby girl to the world. Another miracle in this world. Mrs Kupninski couldn't have been happier. She shed tears of joy and forgot all the misery she had faced in her life. From that day, the new life for her began. The life of shared happiness, smiles, hugs, cuddles, kisses. The life of motherhood and real friendship. Lola transformed her life into a fairy tale.
When Lola thought about those days she had spent with her mother, she realized that her mother had been everything to her and she had always been there for Lola. They had been rarely separated and it had been only for a day or two. And everything Lola knew, she had learned from her mother. Schools gave her some interesting theoretical mostly knowledge, but her mother was her best and favorite teacher. She thought her many life lessons. How was she supposed to live
Lola didn't have many friends. Isolated in her own world that consisted entirely of her mother and her, she hadn't learned how to make friendships. If someone offered her a hand of friendship, she accepted it, but she had never made the initiative to find and make new friends. She seemed to be an overprotected child. Her mother also made sure to be whatever Lola needed her to be. Therefore, Lola was deprived of the need and skills to make friends. Actually, she knew only two people she could call the friends.
An older lady, her first neighbor, Mrs Stanislavski, who lived alone in a small apartment next to the Lola's place. She loved baking and often brought vanilla cookies, cinnamon rolls, raisin strudel, ginger and banana bread to Lola. She also didn't have anyone. Her husband had passed away ten years ago, as well as her two older sisters. Mrs Stanislavski didn't have children. And her only hobbies were baking, reading and feeding the pigeons who regularly came to her balcony and
cooed gently asking for her attention and food.
The other friend or better the acquaintance was Alex. She was not sure if he was her friend because they had known each other only for six months, since he had started working as a sous chef in the restaurant called Onion. She and her mother had loved Onion and visited it regularly. After her mother had passed away, Lola went there only twice. Avoidance of everything familiar that she had shared with her mother was the safest way not to deal with the pain. She was just postponing
the flood of tears that eventually had to come out.
The first time when Alex accidentally met her on the street and asked her why she and her mother hadn't been in Onion for a long time, Lola went numb and out of tune with herself. She forgot that they were walking along the pavement and she just let herself sit down on the curb as if she had lost all the strength and felt she couldn't walk anymore. Her emotional numbness followed.
She told him that her mother had passed away and her tearless face showed that she was still shocked and stunned by the loss of her mother. Alex was sad that he asked her this but he didn't know anything about the death of Mrs Kupinski. He helped her stand up and persuaded her to come and try his dish of the day, grilled Teriyaki tuna. Even though Lola didn't have much appetite during those days and skipped regularly meals or just forgot to eat, she couldn't refuse his kind invitation. Alex was persuasive. He promised her she would be happier after the meal and it would be probably the best Teriyaki tuna she had ever tried. And it was! Plus, Alex made a delicious blueberry cheesecake especially for Lola. Somehow, he remembered that Lola had a sweet tooth. That day was probably one of the best days after her mother had died. At the end of the afternoon, when she finished the last bites of her blueberry cheesecake and got ready to leave, Alex appeared from the restaurant's kitchen with a box full of different cakes that were real delicacies. He gave it to her, wished her good evening and asked her to come back soon. He promised to make for her something special. She smiled. She forgot when she had smiled the last time. That was something new. She was maybe opening the door to a new skill, the skill to make friends. That possibility gave her pleasure. She also caught his glance that looked for her eyes. He seemed eager to tell her that everything would be all right, just he didn't say it. But she read it on his face. The words were unnecessary. His discerning eyes were easy to read. Or at least it seemed like that to her. No other man showed such an attitude and care for her loss. For a moment, she felt as if she had been a pop star, a beautiful singer or maybe a famous actress who attracted men's attention and admiration. Of course, she dreamed awake. Nothing wrong with that. She felt shy at the same time. Maybe she just exaggerated everything, and misread his gestures. But he was very kind and she believed that was how friends behaved. Lola bowed her head willing to hide her blushing and rosy cheeks, smiled again, said “goodbye” and left.
The second time, she initiated the meeting. That was the second step in learning new skills. The initiative. Or just the response to Alex's invitation to come back soon to the restaurant. She went to Onion at midday to have lunch, a little bit earlier than everyone else usually had lunch. She knew that if she avoided the rush lunch hour, she might be able to see Alex and maybe he would be free to sit and chat with her a bit. She needed a good company and she couldn't think of anyone better than Alex. She entered the restaurant cautiously as if she had entered some
sacred place. She wanted to be noticed and to call for Alex's attention but at the same time, she didn't want to disturb the serene atmosphere this place breathed in that day. There was only one couple having their meal at the very far corner of Onion. She sat somewhere in the middle of the restaurant, the place that was visible from all sides, and she made sure to say loudly “hello” to the waiters and barman. Lola didn't have any secret weapon prepared to bring Alex out of the kitchen, and she hoped that he would show up accidentally and talk to her at least for a while. He turned out to be her mood booster. She ordered a simple mixed salad and a glass of white wine. Alex didn't show up the first half an hour but she heard his voice coming from the kitchen. When she got her salad and wine, he came out and joined her at the table. He didn't expect to see her and was pleasantly surprised. He was smiling and it was a genuinely kind smile. That smile made her feel better. She thanked him silently for that, not letting him know what she thought. But she suspected he knew. Somehow it seemed to her that their actions, thoughts, smiles, talks beat in the same rhythm. And she even thought that he was doing everything in his power to make her feel better.
That made her like him more. It was natural and unforced. Liking him was so effortless. They spent half an hour chatting and when the crowd started filling the restaurant, Lola decided to leave. She felt a thousand times better than she had felt before she had come to Onion.
And now she was standing and crying over the onions she had cut. There were so many of them. In the fridge as well. She could fill few big pots with those cut pieces. Maybe even more.
When she had started cutting onions, there had been only two big onions she had intended to cut. But then she realized how therapeutic this act was and she went to the shop and bought two kilos more. While cutting them she was not fully aware of the fact that she would have too many onion cuts. She was so focused on her memories and stress-relieving tears and the pain that she started letting out of her agonized body and soul. And once she finished cutting the last onion and wanted
to continue with this pain-alleviating action, she came to her senses. It was enough for today! And it was helpful! Thank you dear onions!
But what would she do with all those onions cuts? If she put them in the fridge or freezer, and didn't eat them soon, they would get spoiled and she would have to throw them away. And she was repelled by the thought of throwing food. Out of the blue, it came to her! The restaurants always needed a lot of fresh-cut vegetables, and they would use it the very same day! Therefore, she decided to take the onion cuts to Onion and give them to Alex. They helped her and they would
definitely help Alex to make some delicious dishes that day. She smiled at the thought of it.
After she took a shower, dressed and put all those onion cuts in the big plastic bags, she went outside and walked to Onion. The smell of onion spread behind her and people, the random passersby, turned around and looked at her surprised that such a beautiful girl had chosen such a terrible perfume. She laughed to herself as she thought about it. When she entered Onion, she wished the waiters good evening and asked if Alex was around. One of the waiters went into the kitchen to call Alex. Alex appeared after a minute a bit surprised to see her but very happy. When he saw the plastic bags she held and felt the strong smell of onion, he smiled a bit confused. She approached him and told him honestly that she had cut too many onions and that she didn't know what to do with them. She thought Alex would be able to use them. Her red swollen and beautiful eyes revealed the secret, the reason why she had cut so many onions. At least it was clear to him.
Others probably couldn't understand and they thought that she had been silly or she had been supposed to prepare a big dinner for a lot of people, but in the end, dinner had been canceled.
Alex smiled politely and thanked her. He made a joke that they could feed the whole town tonight with all the onion cuts she had made. Lola was in a good mood thanks to the onions. And Alex was grateful to them as well. He invited Lola to stay and have dinner in Onion and since she had nothing else to do she accepted. There were no many people in the restaurant that night and Alex could have a break and have dinner with Lola. He prepared Lamb and onion curry and while they devoured the delicious dish full of onion, they both smiled and joked that probably people would avoid them that evening and probably the next day because of the robust onion smell they gave off. Alex said that maybe they should stick together and avoid other people while the smell disappeared and Lola smiled showing that she liked the idea.
That evening they talked a lot and after Alex finished his work, he walked Lola home, He kissed her cheek gently and asked her if she was willing to join him for breakfast next morning in the beautiful café on the river bank. Lola was not able to refuse anything Alex suggested. She said “yes”, gave him another onion kiss on the cheek and went to her apartment to dream some pleasant dreams filled with onion smell.