Table of Contents
Biblioasis International Translation Series General Editor: Stephen Henighan
I Wrote Stone: The Selected Poetry of Ryszard KapuÅciÅski
(Poland) Translated by Diana Kuprel and Marek Kusiba
Good Morning Comrades
by Ondjaki (Angola)
Translated by Stephen Henighan
Kahn & Engelmann
by Hans Eichner (Austria-Canada) Translated by Jean M. Snook
Dance With Snakes
by Horacio Castellanos Moya (El Salvador) Translated by Lee Paula Springer
by Mauricio Segura (Quebec)
Translated by Dawn M. Cornelio
by Mihail Sebastian (Romania)
Translated by Stephen Henighan
SHE DIDN'T KNOW HOW MUCH TIME had passed. A few seconds? A few long minutes?
She felt nothing. Around her she heard voices, footsteps, people calling out, but all muted and grey, like a sort of auditory paste, from which occasionally a tram-bell or a shout shook loose with unexpected clarity, only to fade away again into the suffocated commotion.
They'll say it's an accident
, she thought very calmly, almost with indifference.
The thought made her feel neither alarmed nor hurried. She had a very vague impression that she must be stretched out next to the sidewalk with her head in the snow. But she didn't try to move.
A stupid, senseless question passed through her mind:
What time is it?
She strained to listen to the tick-tock of her wristwatch, but couldn't hear it.
It must have been smashed
. Then, in an effort to concentrate, as though immersed in herself, she observed that in fact she heard nothing of her own being; not her pulse, not her heart, not her breath.
, she reflected.
I'm like a clock.
And it seemed to her that she was smiling, although she couldn't feel her lips, for whose outline she searched in vain somewhere in that familiar yet vanished space that was her unfeeling body.
She remembered suddenly the moment of the fall, so suddenly that she had the impression that she was falling again, and she heard again the brief noise, like that of a shattered spring, that she had heard then.
She hadn't dwelt on it at the time, but now it returned with an absurd precision: the dry sound of a tearing ligament, of a snapping bow. In truth it seemed to her that somewhere in the intimacy of this body that she no longer felt, something had been ripped out of its natural place.
She tried to review her being, with a brisk inward glance, in order to identify, as though on an X-ray screen, the exact spot of the dislocation.
The collar bone? The aorta? The kneecap?
For each word, it seemed to her that she had to find a response in her inert body, which she listened to again, forcing herself to explore it with her hearing down to its most remote fibres.
All right, something's broken. But what?
Voices rose and fell on the street around her in noisy outbreaks that suddenly became distant. They reached her as though passing through mist or steam.
All at once she overcame the penetrating cold and at the same time she felt her right knee naked against the snow, as though it alone in all her body had awoken her from a powerful anaesthetic. So far away, yet how intensely she felt it! She concentrated her thoughts on this sensation for a moment. This single sensitive point felt extremely strange to her, detached from her swoon like a little island of life.
Then, like a wave of blood, the cold rose above her knees and spread like a fine net through her calf, calling back to life new regions of her flesh. The snow was fluffy, soothing, and it had the softness of chilled bedclothes. She plunged her leg with caution straight into that snow and felt its utter nakedness, her stocking having fallen to her ankle.
In that moment, the tearing sensation of a few seconds earlier flashed through her again. Her mind, which had hesitated until now, located the exact point of the torn piece of her anatomy: her garter. Having broken loose, its metallic spring pressed up against her calf like a small round signet.
I must be half-naked
, she thought without panic. She had barely lifted her head when the voices grew clearer, as though the mist had suddenly dispersed.
“Criminals!” an old man shouted. He blustered, suffocated by the violence of his anger, at a tram driver, who stood in dazed silence. “You don't look in front of you, you don't look around you, you don't give a hoot about your passengers, about women or children ...”
The tram driver gestured, trying to explain.
“Well, if she's getting off ...”
“So what if she's getting off? Doesn't she have the right?”
“She doesn't have the right because this isn't a stop,” somebody else said, in a tone of indifference.
From the ground, she tried to see the person who had spoken, but in the darkness she could only make out an expression lacking in curiosity.
“Of course it's not a stop,” the driver repeated, mildly encouraged.
The elderly gentleman, indignant, refused to back down.
“It's a damned shame it isn't. It should be. We pay for this service. You know they take our money, but they don't lend a hand to build new stops. Criminals, bandits ... You've got rich on the money from our pockets.”
She became aware of a smile that fluttered in the dark and, without raising her head far enough to receive this smile full in the face, was certain that it belonged to the indifferent voice of a moment earlier.
“... Yes, that's how they get us, we deserve it, we're dumb and we don't respond ...”
He was stupid, certainly, but she realized that, sprawled there in the snow, she wasn't listening to the strident voice of the outraged old man, but rather to the other man's distant silences.
“... Yes, gentlemen, we fail to respond. Let's call a police officer and we'll send you off to see a judge, you lawbreaker ...”
Finally she heard again the other man's voice, that slightly deaf, slightly lazy voice. He was probably speaking to the tram driver.
“Hit the road, lad. Get back into your tram and hit the road.”
“Sure, let him hit the road and leave her there dead in the snow.”
Everyone gazed in her direction. In the heat of the argument she had been forgotten, but now she once again became the central character in the drama.
She felt ridiculous, sprawled out as she was â who knew how long she'd been there? â in the middle of the street amid a group of curious bystanders. She would have liked to get up, but she knew she couldn't do it alone.
She glanced around in a circle, seeking a familiar figure among those grey faces, and stopped at the man whose lazy voice had caught her attention. She recognized him by his uncaring gaze, which bore a strong resemblance to his voice.
“Rather than having a fight, why don't you help me get up?”
The man didn't look at all surprised. Without haste, he took a step towards her, paused, kneeled, placed his hand beneath her right arm and lifted her firmly, if without great deftness.
She was unable to suppress a small cry of pain when, reaching a standing position, she was left with her full weight on her right leg.
“Does it hurt?”
“I don't know. I'll see later.”
What should she do now? The circle of curious bystanders tightened around her. Her hat slipped onto the nape of her neck, her right stocking had slid down her leg, her overcoat was covered with snow, her gloves were soaked ...
She felt that getting up had been a mistake: she had been more comfortable lying in the snow. For a moment she was tempted to tumble back down on the spot, a thought that made her smile and recover her calm.
I've got to escape from this
, she said to herself, confronting the group's curiosity with courage.
She returned to the man at her side, who also seemed rather embarrassed by the spectacle.
“Would you like to take a few steps with me?” The suggestion seemed to bore him. She hastened to calm him. “Just a few, as far as the car.”
She didn't wait for his reply. She took his arm and set out alongside him, treading with care in order not to reawaken the pain of a few moments earlier.
Neither a car nor a taxi could be seen. The young gentleman made no effort to conceal his boredom. He remained stubbornly silent, distracted.
She would have been happy to leave him and continue on her way alone, but she didn't trust her right leg. Twice she tried to tread with her full weight, and the pain sliced into her ankle like a blade.
He's been badly brought up, but I need him.
She took his arm more firmly, as though she wished to show him that she wasn't going to allow herself to be intimidated by his bad upbringing and that she wasn't giving up.
She walked a little behind him, not daring to tell him to take shorter steps. She was able to scowl at him in profile without his noticing. A drab guy, with undefinable features, young-looking, although not of any precise age; his hair looked blond, although it wasn't of any clearly defined colour.
Maybe I've seen him before somewhere.
Was he tall? Short? She wouldn't have known what to say. He looked tall in that loose, grey overcoat with large pockets into which he had thrust his hands with a self-assured air.
He remained silent, in the silence of a long journey, reserved, enduring, expressionless.
It's as if he were alone. As if I weren't here by his side. As if he had forgotten that I was by his side. What if he really has forgotten? What if he wakes up and finds us arm-in-arm and asks me what I'm doing here, hanging onto his arm?
She decided to break the silence.
“I don't know how it happened. I slipped, you see, on the step of the tram. I was trying to get off.”
“While the tram was moving?”
Hearing his voice surprised her. She thought he hadn't heard her, that he wasn't going to respond. Her surprise made her animated.
“Yes, while the tram was moving. I always get off when the tram's moving. Otherwise it doesn't work. I live near here, on Bulevardul Dacia, and the number 16 tram only stops on Donici or on Vasile LascÄr. It's too far away. That's why I get off at the turn,
where the tram goes onto Orientul. Not just me. Everybody who lives around here does it. And nothing ever happens. Except for today ... I don't know how it happened.”
They were passing beneath the pulsing of a streetlight. In the light, his face again looked distracted.
What an unpleasant guy!
Even so, she summoned the courage to stop.
“Don't be troubled by what I'm about to ask you. I want you to pull up my stocking. I'm completely frozen.”
She bent over, realizing only now that she was bleeding: her right knee was red, but lower down, towards her ankle, where the scrape was deeper, frozen blood plastered the stocking's fabric to the wound.