Thursday, 14 February 2013

Legacy - Chapter 1

Toivo was born in January while the snowstorm of the century was raging outside. Giste, the local witch, delivered the baby; there was no hope for a midwife or an ambulance to get through to the village.
‘Dad, this is Toivo. Come closer and have a look at him,’ Kaija held her new born son in her arms.
            ‘Toivo means hope. You chose a good name.’ Aatami complemented his daughter.
            Frozen window panes and the steam still hovering over the big pot where Luna was boiling water made the room look smaller than it was in fact. The only sound in the room was the crackling in the fireplace. In this silence the croaking voice of the old witch doubled in the moist air. 
            ‘This child will be a leader of the dying out nation,’ the old woman spoke in a voice that seemed too strong for her wrinkled body. Her voice dissolved with the steam
            ‘What’s that?’ Aatami suddenly woke up from his daydreaming. ‘How do you know that he will be a leader?’
            ‘I can see it in his future. Everything is written out in front of my eyes.’
            The old woman returned to her thoughts, once more she became small, grey creature hidden in the corner of the room. Aatami cleared his throat and raised his head as if he was fighting with himself.
            ‘What else can you see in his future, Giste?’ he asked.
His stare bore straight into the old woman. She stirred at the sound of his voice, slowly raised her milky head and turned towards him. It seemed that Aatami stopped breathing while waiting for Giste’s reply, the witch was looking back at him intensely. The light from the outside faded, it was getting darker in the room. Giste shivered unexpectedly still looking straight at Aatami. At the same moment the fire in the fireplace died out. Old Giste turned her eyes to the fireplace. Suddenly Aatami let out the short scream, the room filled with the smell of lilac so intense that everyone present started looking around the room in search of the source of the smell.
            ‘Don’t worry, this has nothing to do with him.’ Giste finally spoke. ‘His destiny is different, bigger. Your fears are your own. His baggage is special…’
            ‘Are you sure? What dying nation do you mean?’
            ‘What is she talking about?’ Luna asked Aatami. The conversation between the old witch and her husband made no sense to her.
            ‘I’m tired, I’m going to lie by the stove,’ Giste said. ‘Then you can take me home; I won’t be needed here.’
Giste slowly walked to the main room; Luna followed her.
            ‘What was all that about?’ Kaija asked her father.
            ‘I don’t know, child.’
            ‘What are you afraid of dad? What’s his destiny? And what nation was she talking about?’
            ‘It was just the mumbling of the old witch. Go to sleep. You’ve had a hard day, you must be tired.’

The winter of his seventh birthday Toivo was spending with his grandparents. He was a tall boy with wide shoulders and chunky legs; he had a round face with blue eyes and a thick blond hair forming a helmet round his head. One sunny but frosty morning, just after his birthday, granddad took him for a walk to the forest. Susi wasn’t allowed to go with them, Toivo thought it was strange; it never was a problem before. When he asked why they couldn’t take her, granddad just smiled and said that the dog would get in the way.
They were dressed in the reindeer skin coats, trousers and boots as a protection from the cold.
‘I’ll tell you a big secret today’ Aatami said smiling mysteriously as they were walking away from the house. ‘Just follow me’, he added after a while and headed into the thickest part of the forest. Toivo knew he wasn’t going to find out any more until granddad chose to tell him. In the forest they collected fir twigs and then they carried on into the deep forest climbing a hill. Toivo had never been to this part of the woods before. At the top of the hill was a cave; the entry was very low and they had to get on their hands and knees to get inside. After five meters, however, the cave started to rise until they were both able to stand up. In the centre of what appeared to be a room was a pile of stones surrounded by the dead fir branches. The cave was wider at the back and was narrowing towards the entrance. It had egg like shape, at its longest point it might have been three meters and at the widest one two and a half meters. To the left of the cave a rock was carved into to the bench like shape.
‘What is this place?’ Toivo couldn’t resist asking.
‘This place is called sieidi.
‘It’s a sacred place of Sami people, Toivo. You and I are Sami, in us both runs Sami blood’
‘What does it mean?’
‘It means we have tradition to follow, we have duties to our gods that we have to fulfil.’
‘To the gods? But mum and grandma are saying that the God is only one.’
‘It’s because they are talking about Christian religion,’ explained grandfather, ‘and religion I am talking about is different to the one they know.’
Aatami walked over to the stones arranged in the middle of the room and indicated for Toivo to come closer. When he was close enough, grandfather put an arm on his shoulder and started telling his story:
‘I am noaide, the shaman of prehistoric religion of Sami people. I was chosen for this role by the people from my siida. There are not many of us. I only know of other two siidas existing in our region. Your grandma knows about this community but your mum doesn’t. Your mum became too westernised for me to tell her, especially after marrying your dad. When you were born I decided to make sure I tell you early enough. You can make your choice when you grow up but for you to make a choice you need to know who you really are.’
‘The choice between what?’ Toivo was thinking to himself. All the strange words and the secrecy were overwhelming him.
‘You have no idea what I am talking about, do you?’
Toivo shook his head.
‘It’s a long story but I’ll try to make it as short and as clear as I can.’
Aatami sat down on the big rock shaped into a bench, Toivo followed. The cave was warm, their torches were now lying on the bench and the shadow of the pile of stones was reflecting on the opposite wall. There was no sound apart from their breathing. They undid their coats; grandfather reached into the pocket of his inner jacket and got two chocolate bars. He gave one to Toivo and opened the other one himself. They ate in silence. When they finished Aatami cleared his throat and started:
‘So... as I said I am noaide which means shaman. Do you know what shaman means?’
Toivo nodded but his blank expression gave him away.
‘Don’t worry Toi,’ grandfather smiled putting his big arm around the boy. ‘You are too young to know. Shaman is a person who can speak to the spirits...’
‘Like ghosts?’
‘Yes, like ghosts.’
‘Does it mean that you can talk to Anssi’s grandma?’
‘Yes, I can... but don’t interrupt me now. Concentrate young Toi, this is important what I’m going to tell you. In the old days, some three or four hundred years ago all the people who lived here believed in spirits. There were many noaides like me. People lived in groups called siidas. They were living in the tents; in the summers they were travelling up north to the sea to fish and gather food for the winter. In the winters they were coming back south and building bigger and warmer tents where they could survive winter.’ Aatami cleared his throat and continued ‘Those people, our ancestors, believed that animals and forests are sacred. They only killed animals for food, never for fun. They knew all the trees and the tiniest plants in the woods. They knew how to make medicine only from herbs and how to communicate with the spirits.’ Grandfather stopped to check if the boy was listening. ‘Are you following?’
‘Good. So, our ancestors were sometimes bothered by the groups of Norwegians or Finns. With time they were pushed out further and further north, to the coldest and more hostile parts of the land but they always managed to survive because they knew how to behave in these lands. They could talk to the earth and its spirits... Then, in the nineteenth century this man called Lars Levi Laestadiusin; remember this name Toi – Laestadiusin; decided that we have to take his religion. That’s why today all Sami people go to Lutheran church and believe in that god that your mum and grandma are telling you about.’ He paused and fell deep in thought. This strange story fascinated Toivo. It suddenly occurred to him that the place they were in must be one of those sacred places granddad was telling him about. He looked up at Aatami; in the confined space of the stone room and the yellow light of the torches directed at the stones in the centre, the old man’s silhouette seemed unearthly. Grandfather’s deep blue eyes under white brows shone with an alien energy, his straw coloured beard was unhurriedly moving up and down; granddad was thinking. His shadow spread unevenly on the rough rocks.
            ‘We didn’t want to take their religion but they promised us houses with electricity, running water and many other pretty things... We are peaceful people, we don’t like fighting. So we agreed...’ His deep voice was hanging in the air. ‘This happened long time before I was born but my grandfather told me all about it. He saw it happened. When I was your age he brought me to this very cave and told me about his real religion. Of course, he was going to their church singing their songs to their god. But he never forgot about where we really come from.’ Aatami sighted and fell silent again. Toivo’s torch started to lose power.
            ‘Have you got spare battery?’ Aatami asked.
            ‘No, I didn’t know we were going to use it so much.’
            ‘That’s ok. I’ve taken spares. Let’s wait for yours to go completely off.’ Grandfather turned his torch off and the only light in the cave was coming from Toivo’s weak torch. In that light the silent cave in the stomach of the mountain looked magical. Stones in the middle looked bigger and longer and Toivo thought he could see them move. The padded silence of the room seemed to be telling him the entire history from the beginning of its existence. In the split second red hot lava, frozen whiteness, beasts, people and shadows flashed in front of his eyes. Aatami picked up the torch and directed it on his watch.
            ‘It’s getting late. We better start coming back, walking through the woods in the darkness is not very safe.’
            ‘What about your story? What about your granddad and all he taught you?’ Toivo insisted.
            ‘I’ll have to tell you some other time.’
            ‘I still don’t understand why we came here.’
Aatami got up and walked over to the stones. ‘Put your hand on the stones and close your eyes.’ Toivo did as he was told. ‘Now stop thinking and listen.’
Visions flicked through in his imagination. He saw the forests, the faces, the animals, the summers, the winters, the huts; they all turned and interchanged like in a kaleidoscope. Pride, happiness, fear, hunger and pain shook his startled heart.
He opened his eyes; granddad put his torch on and its brightness blinded Toivo.
            ‘Do you understand now?’ Aatami asked.
He understood, it was his baggage now. He couldn’t find the words to describe what he felt at that moment but he knew it was a part of him and he was a part of it. Under the weight of the understanding that was still taking shape in his head, he felt that his entire life was put on the path he had no control over.
            ‘You are one of us. Now, you cannot tell anyone about this.’ Aatami put both his hands on Toivo’s forehead. ‘I’ll teach you everything you need to know to be a good noaide. Let’s go home, it’s getting late.’

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Legacy - Prologue

Aatami tears through the forest. Every so often he trips over the roots sticking out of the ground. The branches hurt his face. He doesn’t pay attention to them; all he concentrates on now is not falling over and not slowing down.  His legs are shaking but he keeps running pushed by the overpowering fear. The men are right behind him, he can hear their laboured breathing. Even though he is not turning back to check, he knows they are going to catch up with him any moment. The thought of giving up flashes through his head like a lightning. Equally quickly the will to survive pushes him forward. Orange sunset shines through the branches straight into his eyes. All shades of yellow, red, orange and brown merge into one blurred colour. Something prods him in the back. He realises that he tripped over and is now rolling down the slope. Heavy boots are right behind him; they are sliding down the hillside in big strides. He knows he won’t get away now. Before he manages to stop and recognise the sky from the ground a man closest to him grabs him by the jacket and lifts him up.
            Aatami is now looking in the big, dark face. This face is covered in grey and black stubble, coal of the evil eyes sparkles over long and slim nose. These eyes are looking through him; Aatami turns his head away and closes his eyes, his heart stops for a moment. Big, hard hand turns his head towards the man’s face. The remaining men caught up and formed a circle around them. The boy cannot see their faces, they are blurred; but he senses that they are as evil as the one he has to look at. The sun has almost set and it is getting grey; the wind raises and moves the leafless branches. The men light their torches. In this light bad eyes of the man are hiding under the shade of the big eyebrows but Aatami knows that the man is looking through him. The bad man’s lips start moving, Aatami, however, doesn’t hear a word. The man keeps talking faster but no sound reaches the boy’s ears. The man shakes him very hard and clenches his hand around Aatami’s neck. The boy recalls a young deer he killed that summer while hunting with his father. His first kill. He clearly remembers its helpless little legs wriggling and the eyes fading away after he cut its throat. And the blood, blackening paddle on the grass. The man’s face is now so close that the boy can smell stale stench of alcohol and the skin immersed with tobacco. ‘He is going to kill me now,’ Aatami thinks. Something heavy hits him in the back of the head. Aatami feels pain, his nostrils fill with the strong smell of lilac and soon after that he falls into the darkness.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Urszula's confession

It was me, I found her. Exactly like she described Urszula was lying in bed covered up to her armpits; her left hand resting on a pillow was opened up to the ceiling, fingers curled up like the new born baby’s; right arm was resting on her belly with the back of the hand facing up. Her face was slightly turned to the left. Eyes wide open, and the lips ajar in delicate smile; it looked as if she was smiling at this baby like fist that didn’t belong with the rest of her old lifeless body. Her eyes were shining like freshly fallen concors in the strong autumn sun. Her hair was spread on the pillows and carelessly fallen on her right cheek.

Urszula came to me in my sleep. I knew her from the neighbourhood; she lived in the old house behind the last block of flats. She would sit on the bench in the front garden or stand by the main gate. When she visited me in my sleep for the first time her hair was no longer grey; it regained its long lost gleaming blackness. Despite this change I recognised her straight away; she touched my face and smiled a delicate smile. During her first visit she said nothing, she only stood there looking at me but not seeing me. It was a gaze of someone who came back from the other side. On the second night she looked the same as always; with thin grey hair, dressed in a brown skirt, a blouse with the collar popping up from under the green cardigan and (once upon the time) black shoes. She was bent forward and looking suspiciously around. I’m waiting for you for christsake; she barked irritated. On the third night she was calmer. I’m waiting for you, she said, come visit me tomorrow. The door is open, you don’t need to knock.

What was Urszula thinking about on the day she decided to die? When I asked her about it she didn’t reply straight away. In fact, she didn’t reply at all. She only smiled with that delicate smile, her lips ajar. She looked at the back of the bedroom at the commode. The second drawer from the top was partly open, inside scattered photos. As a young woman Urszula was pretty, she had long, delicate face with big brown eyes and raven black hair always platted at the back. She had a nice figure but looking at the pictures one was getting the impression that she didn’t care much about the way she looked.
Urszula always considered herself different, she never opened her soul to anyone. Yes, she did have so-called friends, people with whom she talked about important and wise things. Usually her involvement in these converstions was mainly listening with occasional interjection.

The day in which Urszula decided to fall asleep forever was no different to any other day that summer. It was Wednesday, the date third of July. Morning was warm and lazy, almost as if the air got bored with the constant movement and decided to have a break. She got up as usual at six in the morning and went into the garden to water the plants and feed the dog. She unfastened the chain on the dog’s collar and left the gate open for him, the dog – old and sick, just like herself – didn’t even react to this sudden act of kindness. It was not interested in freedom anymore. She had breakfast, washed the dishes, dusted the house and put the washing away into wardrobes. She was ready. She took long, hot bath. She used the peeling that Mateusz bought her years ago; rubbed her heels with pumice and washed her hair twice. She was ready.
Back in the kitchen she made coffee and had last two biscuits from the tin. Wall clock struck midday. As always on time the postman appeared in the gate, he walked up to the door and put the letters in the post box on the front door. Familiar rattling was the only farewell from this world. Urszula followed the postman with her gaze out to the street. She didn’t take out the letters, the bills and children from the third world countries were no longer her problem. She went to the bedroom and fell asleep.

She dreams that she is a little girl again, she is five and lies in bed. Her mum leans over and wants to kiss and hug her goodnight. Urszula pulls away, she doesn’t want to be kissed or hugged. Ula, mum speaks to her softly, she is worried, she tries to kiss her daughter few more times but it’s in vain. In the end mum says that one day Urszula will want to be kissed and hugged but it will be too late. Mum leaves the room. Ula pretends she doesn’t care; she turns to the wall and with difficulty tries to stop the tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. She won’t cry, she will be strong.

One year later. This time she is in her parents’ bed. Mum is still in the kitchen, probably cleaning up, dad is in the bed next to her watching TV. Ula tries to sleep but the sound from TV distracts her. She twists and turns trying to see from behind her father’s back what’s happening on TV. Without turning around to her dad grabs her foot under the covers. Ula giggles, dad turns to her asks what’s so funny. You’re tickling me, she replies. Dad lifts up the covers, looks down and starts laughing. I thought it was your hand, he says.

Urszula is eight, her little sister probably one and a half. Together with other children they are playing on the stairwell in the block of flats. Ula pushes her little sister. Regina, the oldest in the group, sees this and shouts at Ula; suddenly all the kids gather together and head towards her. They yell something, want to punish her for pushing her sister. Ula is cornered, she has nowhere to run, she can feel coldness of the concrete wall on her back. The children are getting closer, they shout louder, their little faces reddened with anger become bigger with each step they take. They want her to apologise but she won’t do it. She won’t apologise precisely because she knows she should, because they are expecting her to, and because she feels ashamed. One of the neighbours opens the door to see what is happening. The children step back. Ula uses momentarily open space, she grabs her sister and runs to their flat. She presses the door handle but the door is locked. She hits at the door with her fists with all her strenght. Neighbour went back to her flat and the children return to their game. Ula turns back; her oppressors are getting closer. Eternity passes before mum opens the door. Ula tries to squeeze inside, mum demands explanation but Ula ignores her and pushed through inside the flat. The children outside continue screaming. One over the other, they tell mum what Ula has done.

The teenage years. Ula goes to the morning mass; this is the second week of her zealous religiousness. Urszula seriously considers joining the monastery; she likes the idea of spending the rest of her life in silence and praying. She also likes a young priest; his presence at the morning mass makes getting up for six in the morning much easier. A couple of times Ula takes part in the ‘silent days’ organised by the order on the other side of the town. The routine of the life as a nun is tempting; she wouldn’t have to worry about tomorrow; she would only have to be obedient.

At college Urszula discovers orgasm, heavy metal and punk rock. The idea of joining the order is no longer so appealing; the young priest has been moved to another area and Ula stopped attending morning mass. Along with the change of the plans for the future the insecurity creeps in. Ula doesn’t know what to do with her life. She spends hours lying in her bed imagining that her life has just ended; or that the life she has known so far is just a dream and sooner or later she will wake up in this room – this fortress where nothing bad can happen to her. The crack on the ceiling she is always staring at during these ‘sessions’ becomes a symbol of security; it reminds her of times when life was still uncomplicated, it is here now and calms her, it will be here when she wakes up from the dream she is now living and she’ll sight with relief. Only one thing is certain: whatever happens she will always be able to come back to this room, lay down on this bed and stare at the soothing crack on the ceiling.

I don’t know who Charlie is. I take it that Urszula knew him. He is short, stocky, his arms are wide and he has unattractive square face. One needs to look at him closely to be able to notice something interesting. Charlie has longish hair colour of the straw divided in the middle, his nose looks like small flattened tomato sitting over narrow, bright red lips. But all becomes unimportant when one looks into his eyes. Big, filled with blueness; they say everything about him. Charlie is lonely; Urszula found someone like her. The only difference between them is that she is happy with it, while he is trying to get out. Urszula borrows him for a while, she wants to analyse him, wants to know what others see when they look at her. Then she’ll leave him.
She is woken by the steps outside of the bedroom. It’s Charlie’s seventeen year old son going to school. Bye dad, he shouts from the doorway and slams the front door behind him. Bye, Ula shouts back at him. Charlie giggles, he also got woken up by his son. In the morning light pushing through the blinds Urszula can see Charlie’s fat, covered in hair body. She turns on her side and puts her tanned, barely twenty year old arm on his greying chest.

Bożena is furious. She found out about Urszula and Charlie. How could you? You make me sick, she shouts into my face. Urszula passed the baton over to me; I’m not just watching, I’m taking part now. Under her makeup Bożena is purple with fury. She has distinct jaw, thin eyebrows and always smiling eyes. These eyes do not fit the image she is trying to create; always dressed in black, in the leather jacket and compulsory Dr Marten’s boots she supposed to be personalisation of inaccessibility and evil. She is looking at me expectantly. I don’t know what to say; I’m ashamed for Urszula, I know she shouldn’t have done it. But I also understand her, Charlie is not a victim; he had few wonderful nights. This might not happen to him again, he has been marked by Solitude and he will never escape it. I don’t say anything. How could you? Bożena repeats. She seems to be full of dos and don’ts and good advices. I don’t quite get how her and Urszula could be friends. Do you want another beer? I ask. We are in the pub; small, round table that we are sitting at is right by the window. Outside is still light, on the streets of London people rush past our window. I go to the bar and order two pints.

In another pub with Bożena. She is not happy again, this time she doesn’t shout; she is trying to convince me. Don’t do it, one day you’ll regret your choice, she says. It is the most beautiful thing that can happen to a woman. It may not always be easy, but it will definitely be worth it. You’ll manage without Dave. I take a cigarette out of the packet and light it. One puff and I feel sick. My heart is pounding like crazy, hands are sweating, intestines twist into knots and a second later untwine. I really hard not to faint; or even worse. Stubbing pain in my lower abdomen is unbearable. After a minute that seems like an eternity everything calms down. I take a sip of beer and make my decision: this baby won’t be born.

I wake up in some room, Urszula must have lived here at some point. I look in the mirror, I look awful (Ula does); bruised left eye, red lines on the neck. At first I don’t understand what is going on but after a while all the memories load into my head. Everything is clear; Ula married Dave; there is a wedding ring on her/mine left hand to prove it. Dave is gone, he left in the middle of the night after he beat her up, he is with his lover now. There is opened bottle of vodka on the desk by the window; the floor is covered in his clothes and the broken glass. A hole in the wall on my/her side of the bed is from the metal CD holder he threw at her, the holder is now on the floor amongst the clothes. Most of the CDs had fallen out of their covers and are now spread across the room, from time to time one of them winks at me in pink, blue or green. The situation is hopeless, the humiliation reached the zenith. I close my eyes in hope that when I’ll open them again there will be familiar crack on the ceiling. No. It doesn’t happen. I look through the bedside cabinet, there are two full boxes of paracetamol; twenty four tablets in total. The moment of hesitation; maybe it is not worth it?

It’s the middle of the summer. We’re in the car; Urszula-me and Nick. The wind comes in through the open windows of Mini Cooper and messes our hair up, ‘Hello, I love you’ by The Doors blasts from the car speakers. Nick has long, curly hair, wide chest and strong arms; he turns to me and smiles, I melt under that smile. Let me jump in your game, he sings along with the song. The woods and hills of Sussex are our paradise; Nick’s bedroom filled with dreams, ideals of youth and the air heavy from love is our kingdom. Wrapped around each other we are examining every millimetre of our bodies. One day Nick asks if sometimes I get the feeling as if the universe was pointing its huge finger at me and laughed. I say no. Many months later I realise that is exactly how I feel. Nick understands, he is a soul mate; loves with perfect love. This is happiness. This happiness terrifies; there is too much of it, it’s too sudden, too heavy. Solitude always wins, not even Nick has a chance against it.

With Kasia comes pleasure. We are friends; I chose Kasia the same way she chose me. It is a friendship from the first sight. We are inseparable, wild and provoking. Men fight for us, they get down to their knees; and we give them hope just so we can take it away in the end. The memory of her small breasts and scar on the hip makes me shake with desire; her long, black hair and slightly mad laughter posessed me completely. The skin soaked in nicotine and bitten fingernails are a promise of an adventure.
The day comes when I become obsolete. It hurts. I try to understand, I wait for a sign but it never arrives. Slowly I retreat into obscurity.

Along comes time of Mateusz. He is calm, patient and full of goodness. This time it is me who gives in. With him starts everyday life, at first it is blissful, then it becomes a routine and finally the solitude creeps in and stays with me for good. Acquaintances come and go, Mateusz stays. Every day after dinner we drink wine and watch the news. Out of the blue the baby comes along, it turns out that I wanted it. The baby disappears as quickly as it came into our lives. Mateusz cries, too.
We buy the house. He escapes into the garage, me – to the garden, reading and housework. The days become longer and there is less sense in each new morning we encounter. Despite the years passing by the new dawn never arrives. We no longer talk to each other; all the important things had been said; the rest is unimportant. Any physical contact is accidental and creates embarrassment. My face is covered in wrinkles, I limp on my left leg and I have to use walking stick to get around. My breasts are floppy, the fat gathers away in my thighs and waist; I don’t even remember when the last time I shaved my legs was. Mateusz grows big belly; thick fur like coat of hair covers his entire body; it even gets into his ears and nose.

Mateusz leaves in his sleep. The doctor says it was his heart but I think that he had enough of life. I’m not afraid of solitude, it was always here, now it only takes over from his material presence. After Mateusz is gone I am beginning to miss him. I look for him in the smell of unwashed shirts and his shower gel that was left behind. I realise that I loved him all those years.

This year’s winter is exceptionally long. I read a lot, look through the old photos and cry even more. I’m no longer ashamed of crying. I know that the spring will come after winter and after spring the summer will inevitably follow. I’m afraid of it, but even more I await it. This will be the summer of the hardest, so far, farewell. We will miss each other but – surely – we won’t be lonely. I will join Mateusz and at last will love him the way that he deserves. The Solitude will surely find another friend with whom she’ll experience equally beautiful moments.

Tomorrow is third of July. Will you be with me? I ask. I will, the way I always was, she replies.


It’s gone midday. Urszula went to bed, on the left side of her bed sat Solitude. Give me your hand, she smiled at Urszula. Holding her best friend’s hand Urszula closed her eyes. She slept for three days and three nights. On Saturday at six in the morning she sighted deeply, smiled and joined Mateusz.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

From Russia

Winters in St Petersburg are long and cold. I’m used to them by now; it’s my fourth year here. I know all the signs of oncoming winter but it still takes me by surprise. Almost as if I didn’t notice nights getting colder, mornings being darker and evenings shutting their windows to the night earlier and earlier each day.
The sun is high and strong and the walk proves to be very enjoyable despite the cold. Snow is almost gone from the pavements and streets but still sits on the roofs and grass. I walk past the families with over energetic kids who don’t seem to feel the cold. Even pigeons are going about their daily business as if they weren’t too bothered by it. I’ve been walking for a good twenty minutes and I need to warm up. I head to my usual place. It’s a cafe opposite to Kunstkamera museum. It’s not very adventurous but I really like its cosiness. I often come here during my breaks between lectures. It reminds me of Paris. When I come here alone I sit by the window and watch the people walking by. I like watching people when they are at their most natural. After all, people are my ‘speciality’. I’m an anthropologist. Yet, I’m a loner; I don’t like human contact in everyday life.
I’m walking into ‘my’ cafe. The waiter knows me and asks if I’ll be sitting alone today. When I nod to confirm, he takes me straight to my window table; the best spot for “people watching” on this side of Kunstkamera. I move my chair from its original place and situate it in the position in which I have my back on the cafe and am facing the window. I take out notepad and writing paper from my waistcoat pocket and put them on the table. Then I search through my pockets for the pen. After a short moment of panic I finally find it and place it next to the paper. When I’m all settled, I sit and stare at the street. Sometimes passersby notice me, some turn their eyes immediately and walk off, others get shy or embarrassed; there are also people who stare back as if they want to challenge me in some staring game. In those cases I play the game for a moment or two and if they don’t give up first, turn away slowly as if it was boring me. Last summer a couple of young kids, maybe five or six years old, managed to get me involved in a face pulling competition. Till this day I don’t know who won because their parents called them away. I watched the family together and became very jealous. I wanted to be six years old again and hold my mum by the hand. Seeing the kids with their parents reminded me of myself at that age. Suddenly, I remembered that sunny Saturday afternoon when my mum was dusting the shelves; and the black box with the coins inside.  It looked pretty, very interesting. I went over to the table and tried to open it. The lid came off easily. I looked inside and found something I hadn’t seen before. The box was full of round metal things that looked like money but were different.
‘Mummy, what’s this?’ I asked.
Mum put the cloth down and came over to the table. She took one round thing and looked at it for a moment.
‘What is it?’ I asked again impatiently.
‘They are coins.’
‘But they look different’, I was puzzled. She stroked my hair and smiled.
‘Yes, they are different because they are old coins and they come from many different countries’.
She took a handful out and spread them on the table. They had different shapes, colours and sizes. The sun shone on the table and all the coins, some of them really sparkled and I had to squint. I chose a big silver coin with a head of a man with some leaves on his head.
‘Which country is this one from?’
‘This one is from Rome.’
‘And this one?’ I picked another silver coin but slightly smaller, ‘Where is this one from?’ Mum took it in her hand and turned it over couple of times.
‘This one is from Russia.’
‘Ooo’, I stretched out my hand to take it from her, ‘from Russia’
Mum gave the coin back to me. I held it with adoration.
‘From Russia!’ I repeated. Mum laughed and stroked my hair.
It was then that I decided that I wanted to know more about people from different countries and that I wanted to visit Russia. 

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Pandora - Greece

Pandora - the gift of gods

When Zeus saw that Prometheus created people and taught them how to make fire he got worried. He still remembered very well the fights with giants and did not want this to repeat. Zeus decided to punish people. He asked Hephaistos to make a woman as beautiful as the goddesses from Olympus. When this was done Athena taught her how to sew, Aphrodite gave her beauty and Hermes gave her coaxing character. They called her Pandora - the gift of gods. The gods also gave her a pot made of clay but no one knew what was inside.
Now Pandora was ready. She was sent down to the earth and left in front of Prometheus's house. Wise Tytan looked at the beautiful woman and realised that this was a trick. He sent Pandora away and told people to do the same. However, he had a brother called Epimetheus (meaning: 'thinking backwards') who took Pandora in and married her. As soon as Prometheus found out about this, he went to see his brother and told him not to open the pot no matter what. He had a feeling this was a deceit.

His pleas were in vain. Pandora convinced her husband to open the clay pot anyway. As soon as they lifted the lid all the misery escaped out to the world. Unhappiness, poverty, illnesses and problems flew out of the pot and clang on to the people to haunt them forever.

When Prometheus found out what happened he decided to pay back the gods in the same tricky way. But this  is another story...

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Where did people come from? - Greece

Stories on the origin of people differ depending on the source.

According to the Greek mythology, people were already on the planet Earth when the gods were fighting for the rule over the world. The stories of where humans came from were many. Some said they came straight from the earth; others that mountains and forests gave birth to people. There were also theories that they came from the the gods.

Most popular in the Greek mythology is, however, story of Prometheus. Prometheus was one of the Tytans. He made a first man from clay and tears. Human soul came from the spark of the chariot of the sun.
First people were weak and naked; they could not defend themselves from the wild animals or the cold. Prometheus sneaked into the heavens and stole fire from the gods. People now used the fire to keep warm and defend themselves from the wild beasts. Good Tytan was teaching people how to wisely use fire and how to fend for themselves.

Gods in the Olympus did not like this and decided to create a woman. Her name was Pandora. But this is another story...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Typhon; the last son of Gaia - Greece

This myth is a continuation to the previous one about the fight between the gods and the giants.

Basically, when Gaia (Mother Earth) found out what happened to her children (giants), she gave birth to the biggest monster anyone ever seen. His name was Typhon. From head to groin he was a giant human and at the bottom; instead of legs; he had snakes' bodies.
When the gods of the Olympus saw him, they got scared and escaped to Egypt where they changed themselves into animals. Only Zeus faced the monster.
He hurt Typhon with his metal sickle. The giant was bleeding so badly that the mountains where he was became red. Since then they were called 'Blood Mountains'. When Typhon was very weak, Zeus thrown Sicily island on top of him. Every time Typhon is trying to get out of his prison sicilian earth is shaking and smoke is coming from the volcano (Etna).

I find very interesting myths like this one. They are evocative way of explaining natural events such as volcano eruptions or - in this case - the colour of the mountains. Ancient Greeks didn't know geography like we do today but they still found a way to explain these phenomenons. Every area has myths like this one. Isn't it fascinating to find out what explanations there are to the unusual formations or events near you?