“Sweetie, there’s a call for you!” Susan yelled from the living room.
Did I just hear the word sweetie? “Sweetie” was something out of the ordinary, and something told me that her word choice was influenced by the presence of a male friend, who was paying her a visit.
Frowning with suspicion, I walked into the living room. Susan was sitting on a couch with a glass of red wine in her hand, looking like she was in an upbeat mood. And lo and behold! Was that a hint of a lipstick I could see on her thin lips? I hurried to pick up the phone, before she could notice the look her guest was giving me.
“I’ll call you back,” I murmured to Amy and hung up. I was on my way out of the living room, when Susan stopped me.
“Daria, sweetheart, I can assure you that I’ll run a telephone extension to your room soon, so that you can get some privacy,” she said affably.
I writhed in response to such hypocrisy. Does she really have to lie through her teeth just to impress her friend?
At least school was almost over. Nina told our nerdy gang (that had gathered in the middle of the school hallway) that she met someone during her recent trip to Kiev and that she was planning to move there. I was astounding and impressed by her courage, and ability to accomplish what Kaezar and I couldn’t.
“Who’s the lucky guy?” I asked.
“He’s a son of a priest,” Nina said.
We all exchanged glances. Getting married to a religious fanatic (whom she had known for a week) at the mere age of 19 seemed a little odd.
“By the way,” Nina said, turning towards me. “I was wondering if you would like to take over my cleaning job?”
I couldn’t keep working in the hotel forever, especially when my relationship with HSB was hanging by a thread, so I agreed to come to her work the following day and check it out.
After school we all went to hang out at Ralph’s place. We ordered pizza, watched movies, and talked throughout the evening. Maddie ended up making out with Sam for the second time that year, which prompted Ralph to try his luck too: he put his small palm on my bare midriff, but I told him to forget about it, and he abandoned the idea.
When Nick and Xu went home, Ralph showed me how to drink his neon green absinthe, which I smuggled for him from Kiev. He melted the sugar, put the absinthe on fire and then placed the palm over it to blow out the flame: all this was accompanied by the sounds of heavy metal and my cheery whistling.
Around midnight, I gathered my stuff and headed home. It was a starless white night and although the sun was nowhere to be found, the sky was illuminated by flat and diffused light, which felt unnatural at such late hour. The public transport wasn’t working, and I was considering walking home, when a speeding taxi made a sharp U-turn in front of me. The window rolled down and a young Arab addressed himself to me.
“You need a lift? You look like someone who could use it,” he said, practically sticking his head out of the window.
“I do?” I said, surprised.
I pulled the door handle and told him my address. We drove for no more than a few minutes, when the cabdriver picked up his phone and called someone up.
“Got a bird sitting here. Tall, blonde, slender, brown eyes… And um…” he said loudly, eyeing me with assessment, “out of 10 I’d give her eight and a half. She lives in Valby. Uh huh.”
I gulped down my horror. And then I realized that the meter wasn’t running, because he never turned it on.
A storm of thoughts blew through my mind: Hang on a minute, eight and a half?! Seriously, you must be blind! — Where is he planning to take me? — Oh God, I think I might end up gracing a crime column on the Saturday morning news.
Despite this interior monologue, my mind utilized all the possible resources to assess the situation. Working like a machine, it computed in a fraction of a second how to get me out of a life threatening situation. It worked faster than my emotions, and faster than I could understand what my mouth was saying.
“I’m going home to my children. And a husband, who’s waiting for me,” I blurted out.
The cabbie didn’t ask any questions, he simply forwarded the information to the unknown recipient.
“She says she’s going home to her children and her husband, who’s waiting for her,” he said and paused. “Are you sure? I could be there soon. Alright. No problem.”
He put his phone down. What a tremendous relief! Another 30 feet and I would be in the safety of Susan’s staircase. Nevertheless I kept my cool, not wanting to appear weak or reveal that I was well aware of his intentions.
The cab came to a halt. I gave the cabbie 10 dollars and he drove away, zigzagging on sharp turns like a hungry shark that was on the lookout for prey.
I don’t know why my stupid tactics have always worked. Or maybe I owed it to my guardian angel. I was shaken when I got into bed, and I promised myself to never again walk the Friday night streets alone, and never to trust a taxi driver. It was a promise that I couldn’t keep.
My alarm clock rang six hours later. That sickening feeling of sleep deprivation was with me again. Like a zombie, I trudged to look for my clothes, stumbling and fighting sleep and muscle weakness.
Nina’s workplace turned out to be a nursing home for the mentally disturbed. Located in a gloomy, 19th century red-brick building, it resembled a convent. The first thing that struck me was the pungent smell of a disinfectant, that emanated from clinically white floors. The long sterile hallway, where feeble cries called for help and swore that they belonged to national security agents, looked no different than a hospital, but had nothing in common with a luxurious atmosphere of a five star hotel.
I tried to hide in the changing room, behind a metal locker, but Nina found me.
“There you are!” she exclaimed with excessive enthusiasm.
She handed me a broom and led me out into the hallway, where the nurses were scurrying around. I looked askance at the wards, but Nina took no notice of it. She was running round like a headless chicken, saying that we must urgently warm up the food, and that we must get the yellow sponges from the bathroom, and that the cleaning must be very thorough. We sneaked into the wards after the patients got their medicine. While Nina was vigorously swishing the mop around the hospital beds, skillfully avoiding the outstretched arms, I tried hard to not look at their owners.
“Nina, I think I’m going to throw up,” I said, leaning against the tile wall in the kitchen. Its gleaming stainless-steel surfaces radiated cold.
“Dasha, I’m gonna kill you! We just mopped the floor!”
All I wanted to do was to curl up in bed. My head was spinning. And by the time I got home I had high fever. There was no doubt: I had flu again.
I drank chamomile tea and rested. Susan dragged down three bamboo shelves from the attic and stuffed them into my room. She felt justified in doing so because she “couldn’t help but notice” that my books were “scattered all over the floor” and so she decided that I was “in a dire need of book shelves” and ultimately, it was for my own good.
I couldn’t care less. I withstood everything with stubborn determination, like a true partisan. Since childhood I’ve been taught to endure pain. Grandma would always tell me that steel is tempered by fire and that a rough road leads to the stars. Or as the ancients used to say, “Per aspera ad astra”.
I recovered a week later. Do I look hot or what? I asked the mirror, examining critically my reflection. My stunning attire, a sheer red top with silky pants and pointy black pumps, was nothing less than a call for action, but I still wasn’t sure if it was dramatic enough to astonish my cool-headed teacher.
The silver torpedo was already by my door, when I got an ultra-short message: “I’m here”. I rushed downstairs, click clacking with my heels, threw open the car door and pushed the gas pedal all the way down, smiling from ear to ear.
“Mm,” Kaezar said, scanning me from head to toe. “Looking good, Dasha.”
A stream of fresh air that was blowing from the west burst into the cabin though the rolled down window and ruffled my hair, as I smiled at the setting sun in front of us. He was right – I did look good.
“You know, I had lived in this area with my family for five years,” I said to Kaezar, as we cruised around the lively streets. “Practically around the corner, on Valhalla Street. The one that’s close to the church.”
Kaezar was suddenly all ears. He looked at me so intensely that I thought he was going to scold me.
“Valhalla street?” he exclaimed. “I used to live there too, Dasha!”
We exchanged glances.
“You’re kidding me, right? What house number did you live at?”
His reply shook me. “But that’s the building opposite of mine. I used to live in number 20!” I said, becoming flustered. “Which floor?”
“Third flood!” I repeated in complete disbelief. “I lived on the third floor.”
Kaezar turned to me.
“Wait a minute, Dasha. When?”
“From ‘99 till 2004.”
This time it was Kaezar’s turn to erupt into a manic fit of giggling, as if some hidden knowledge has just been revealed, granting him absolute power. I, too, couldn’t believe it. What are the odds of falling for someone whose windows had mirrored mine for years?
“Same here,” Kaezar blurted out.
“So we had been walking past each other for all those years?”
“So it appears. We must’ve met before,” he said.
“We must’ve,” I whispered, and threw a fiery glanced at him, feeling more than ever that our union was predestined. Not only did we come from the same Ukrainian city of Donetsk, but even in Denmark we had been unknowingly living next door to each other. What was this, a wheel of fortune? A twist of fate? A throw of dice? A turn of the cards? Or the providence itself?
“Remember the Eisenstein family? They had two sons,” I said, referring to my former neighbors.
“Yes. They asked me once if I could give them a driving discount, because you know, we are both Jewish-Russian,” he sneered and then gestured at a familiar street. “Turn left. Let’s pay the old neighborhood a visit.”
A well-known view appeared from behind a corner: Valhalla street with its narrow alley of trees and a line of parked cars, ran between two apartment buildings. Despite the shortage of space, the area exuded peace and privacy.
“Wait here baby, I’ll be back in a minute,” Kaezar said, getting out of the car. He picked up a brightly-colored children’s backpack and hurried away.
So this is where his ex lives.
I looked around. The French balcony of my old apartment was right above me. Everything was as I remembered it, and yet it was like a scene from an entirely different life. Valhalla street no longer stirred up memories of the days when I used to sing Britney Spears’ songs at school potlucks, or when my baby sister got into the habit of throwing my favourite hairbrush off the balcony, or when I screwed up my dad’s computer because I got into an argument with some hacker in Yahoo chat room.
A seismic shift in perception of the past has occurred. Valhalla street was now associated with Kaezar, his ex-girlfriend, his child and his workplace. While I was growing up, the elusive driver with a volatile personality and an unreachable phone number was within reach. He has always been with me. He was already my future. I just hadn’t known it yet.
There was something grandiose and awe-striking in that moment of revelation. Something that altered history, something that rewrote it. He was my everything: my mentor, my lover, my neighbor. He was both near and far away, like a fleeting dream, vivid, yet unreal. How surreal to think that he was before I existed, that I have been promised to him by chance or by destiny!
As I was looking back, I found myself thinking that everything has been leading up to this point, to the merging lane, where two separate lifelines would become intertwined.
“Now then, little woman! Are you ready to go?”
Kaezar was back. We drove no more than for a quarter of a mile. I parked the car on a side street and took out the money I owed him for the lesson. He cringed, refusing to take it.
“Nah, no way,” he said. “I don’t need it, you keep it.”
“Huh? No, Kaezar, take it, at least half of it! Come on,” I said, struggling to put the cash into his pocket, but Kaezar got hold of my hands and pushed me away.
“Ouch, Kez, you’re squeezing my wrists,” I said, pretending as if it hurt.
He retreated, leaned back and froze, looking at me with a strained smile. Measuring the unbearable distance between us with my gaze, I sat back in my seat too. It seemed as though the seconds of passivity would never end.
Before I had time to think, my body made its own move and we both ended up in each other’s arms, kissing wildly and ferociously, breathing hard, and both exhibiting signs of oxytocin intoxication: rosy cheeks and bedhead hair. His shirt was wrinkled and my shirt rode up to my waist.
An older couple that was walking past our car stopped and stared at us in shock, while a young guy, who also happened to see the public obscenity, gave Kaezar thumbs up. Well, of course! The L-plate was still attached to the car top, which meant that we were officially having a driving lesson!
Kaezar must’ve enjoyed being so reckless, for once in his routinized and carefully planned out life. I enjoyed it too, proud like nobody’s business that I was favored by an authority, who was so much more experienced than me.
“Baby, I found out that we can watch Russian movies at the Russian center. We should go sometime,” he said, as our faces touched each other.
It was simultaneously touching and sad to hear this, knowing just how unrealistic it was. Like a sip of black coffee, his sugary words left a bitter aftertaste. He and I were like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we only existed under the cover of his car, under the pretext of driving. To him I was a fling on the side, to me he was a perpetual craving and an everlasting discontentment: the short, half-platonic moments with him were delightful and exceedingly addictive.
All I wanted was to be able to look into his eyes, bottomless as a dark well, and hold his rough, overworked hands. Each time I had to say goodbye, and each time my heart resisted it, as if I would lose him sooner or later, as if life was going to separate us and make us go parallel ways — close enough for us to be near, and far enough for us to be apart. I would get a lump in my throat every time I thought about it. These emotions were so overwhelming and so sincere that they resembled tragedy. Everything, absolutely everything, paled in comparison to how Kaezar made me feel. Long story short, I was madly in love.
Kaezar took off the L-plate and we changed seats. I let him do what he does best — drive. He was in his element: comfortable, cool, like a full blooded young bull. Yet even he was no stranger to a desire to impress. Resting his left hand on top of the steering wheel, and his right hand on the gear knob, he braked and accelerated abruptly, because of which the silver chain on his neck swayed by inertia. Gone was his pedagogical restraint. He was now a racer and an absolute leader of my heart.
It was technically night, 11 PM, but it felt like evening: people and cyclists were out and about. The yellow lights of the street lamps were flashing on our faces, while Kaezar maneuvered recklessly between the cars, showing off his mad skills in surprisingly dense Friday-night traffic, which washed over the narrow city roads like a rising tide of metal.
Another leap and we were at the very heart of Copenhagen, where the nightlife was booming. In the darkness of the cabin, I remembered the one thing I wanted to share with him for a long time.
“Kez, you have got to hear this track. The genre is called psychedelic trance and the melody is synthetic, complex and literally entrancing. Like a climax of all senses. I’ve never heard anything like this before. And guess what? The track is in a language of your ancestors, in Hebrew!”
This captured his interest. He turned to me and said, “Alright, just let me park.”
The night was young and a jolly stream of tipsy people engulfed the streets. I was deliriously happy to be there with him, smitten by a persona I found so inspiring. He was the one: emotionally autonomous, assertive, and always on the move. He was everything I ever wanted to be.
I handed him my phone. “I.M. — Birthday” appeared on the screen. He pressed “play” and the cabin of the car was flooded by the distinctive sounds of psychedelic trance: the rolling bass line, the uplifting rhythm, and the beat that took us to the peak of tension, just to break off abruptly and start over with renewed intensity.
The streets became empty, as if everybody had left them and as the noise of nightlife faded away, the all-embracing outer space above us, a silent witness to our strange bond, expanded into four dimensions. There was only trance, him and me.
Focusing on the bright screen of my phone, Kaezar listened attentively to a set of incomprehensible sounds, which formed words in a language he didn’t understand, but whose call he clearly felt.
“Who’s the DJ?” he asked, and the look on his face had a tinge of nostalgia.
“An Israeli group called Infected Mushroom. Aren’t they amazing? And the lyrics sound so incredibly poetic, even though I don’t understand a word. I’m in love with this track.”
“It’s beautiful,” he said quietly.
I could immediately see that it left an impression on him. The electronic melody immortalized this moment for both of us. When we took off again, retreating from the city center, our eyes locked and I felt a sense of grand achievement.
The headlights lit up a small paved tunnel that led to a seafront. In front of us were the murky waters of the ice-cold Baltic Sea, and behind us a large, empty embankment. Kaezar was determined to park the car as close to the water as possible; he had me worried for a second there.
“Oi, Kaezar, don’t drown us, yeah!” I said holding on to the door, when the car came to an abrupt halt.
I slipped into a pair of flats that I often carried with me, and we got out. It was dead quiet outside, no people, and no vehicles — nothing besides the calm purring of dark water.
“Seriously Kez, you just had to park right on the edge,” I remarked, examining the bumper.
Kaezar was standing nearby, fixing his gaze on me. Reading his body language, I gave him a flirtatious “come chase me” look over my shoulder.
“Right. Come here, Dasha,” he said, approaching me like a beast of prey.
I jumped away squealing, took a sharp turn, trying to make a run for it, but he was faster than me. My heart was pounding in my chest from happiness and apprehension, when he caught me in his arms and started dragging me towards the edge of the promenade. Judging by his fast, heavy breathing, he must’ve felt the same way.
“No! No! No!” I screamed, laughing hysterically, fighting back and hitting him playfully on his chest, but not wanting to free myself from his ensnaring grasp.
“Kaezar, seriously! Let me go! If I’ll drown it’s gonna be your fault!” I said, trying to instill fear in my threats, as he pushed me closer to the edge, holding me close to himself and transfixing me with his dilated unblinking pupils.
“You have to say please,” he said and I could feel his warm breath on the skin of my face.
“No,” I immediately refused, “I won’t. I will never beg!”
“Then, my dear, we have to move closer to the water — dark water,” he said menacingly and held me even tighter.
We were approaching the very edge of the embankment, but like a true rebel, I kept shaking my head, further inflaming the spirit of my tamer and his body that was under the influence of a primal instinct.
In this hunter-hunted game I must’ve been his most non compliant victim. He kissed me gently on my lips and pushed me forward, watching me with a feverish thrill, as I balanced above the water. If there’s ever been a safer place, than it was here, within inches of gaping sea depths.
“What’s it going to be Mr. Executioner? Life or death?” I said with a grin, examining the illegally fetching face of my pursuer.
“That depends entirely on you. You just have to say one word. ‘Please’.”
“No,” I said, making the final spurt in attempt to escape the strong hands of my kidnapper.
“You like bathing in the dark, don’t you?”
His mesmerizing voice was slightly hoarse. I was smiling treacherously, thinking of a way to trick him.
“Alright, alright. Please, dear teacher, I’ll do anything.”
“I can’t hear you,” he said in a low voice. “Say it again.”
“Please,” I said with an exhale of adoration.
He let me go and I lunged at him, attacking him with belly tickles, before rushing to the other side of embankment with a warlike cry, “I’ll never say please!” This sort of insubordination prompted my pursuer to make a mad dash in my direction, but I was already running at a breakneck pace, squealing with fright and delight. He chased me a little more, until we grew tired of rough and tumble play.
Тhe air was fresh, and a little chilly. I breathed in deeply, wanting to become one with every particle of the atmosphere, wanting to record this vision in my mind’s eye forever: the swaying seaweed, the gentle splashing of the water, the lights of the harbor’s cranes and other heavy machinery in the distance, the modernist buildings made of tinted glass. My golden earrings hung down to my neck, and like wind chimes blown by the occasional gusts of sea breeze, tinkled softly their scaly strands. A plangent sound of an airplane that was crossing the expanses of water vapors above us, cut through silence.
Kaezar showered my neck with soft, barely tangible kisses, then took my hand and led the way. We went to explore the area.
All the decent residents were asleep: the windows of their futuristic houses, built around the seafront, were peacefully dark. Below them, boats and yachts stood tied to a dock. We stopped by a large white yacht – before I knew it, Kaezar made a sudden dash and leaped over the water.
“Are you coming?” he asked, standing on the deck.
“Are you sure we won’t get in trouble?” I said, hesitating. “I don’t wanna get arrested for trespassing.”
“Don’t worry so much, Dasha, just come.”
I took a running jump and landed on the deck with a loud “boom”, which should’ve woken everyone up. Brushing off the dirt from my knee, I looked around nervously: the yacht was luxurious, way too luxurious for two young rascals.
“Here, take a seat hon,” Kaezar said, resting on one of the seats, as if they belonged to him. I sat down on his lap, while he held me around my waist, tilting his head backwards and letting his eyes merge with the rippling water.
“Have you ever made love on a boat like this?” he said with a bewitching allure. His question made me shy.
“Have you?” I responded.
“No, but we can try.”
“That’s a rather criminal side of you I haven’t seen.”
Were we alone in the world? There was not a soul anywhere. Kaezar’s eyes were like water in the bay: deep, shimmering and immersive. I had a feeling that if I didn’t look away soon enough, I would sink in them.
Kaezar smiled naughtily. “It’s just as criminal to associate with a student. I can be prosecuted for it.”
We left unnoticed. Forgetting all about dinner and sleep, we cruised in his car until early morning, expressing mutual admiration by wordless exchange, flying past industrial places, highways and avenues that stood empty, lit up by orange light of the tall street lamps. We were on the same wavelength and the world was at our feet.