‘At last! Frankly speaking, it’s been ages, I didn’t expect to see you again. You visit me quite sporadically, only when you make up your mind. And I, under the circumstances, cannot be too forward. I hope you understand what I mean.’
She gave me a wonderful though almost imperceptible smile. I knew, however, that her smile was not more than part of her good manners. More than that: the best manners in the whole world. Maybe someone else would give me a much broader smile or would not smile at all – but do I need someone else?
‘Well, anyway, I am glad to see you again. And why so late at night?’
‘Any explanation would sound as nothing more than a sorry excuse. The work, The family. Besides… You see… please don’t be angry!.. I have a great affection for you, so please don’t take it personally!.. Up to now, I have not had real inspiration. And isn’t it senseless to visit you without inspiration?’
She shrugged her shoulders invisibly though the smile remained on her lips. As I have seen more than once, she never lets her hair down. And what beautiful black hair it was! In all her portraits, which I have been keeping since my distant youth, she looks young and magnificent.
‘You know my feelings!’ I sighed again thinking of the time I had wasted. ‘I am so sorry the inspiration has not visited me for such a long time! But you don’t take offence at me, do you?’
She gracefully turned sideways and looked far away, enigmatically. During such minutes, sometimes even hours, I always forget about all my comparatively small problems and just admire her amazing face and everything, absolutely everything around her. My passion, together with the fully understandable curiosity, came into being long ago. Sometimes it weakens, sometimes flares up with such power that I feel I can’t live a second without my beautiful lady and all her mysterious surroundings. She always meets me with the refined, enchanting smile of an aristocratic lady of the world, excellently educated and having the best manners. She always wears something new thus looking different, ungraspable and, at the same time, so close.
Today, she was wearing a riding-habit. ‘I wish I knew who accompanies her in such journeys’, I flushed with some – just some – jealousy and lost myself in musing. What is interesting: my beautiful lady, although in the middle of subtropical and tropical sunshine, has skin as white as fresh milk, and her black hair never fades. And she doesn’t have a single grey hair, not since I first met her. ‘Well, it’s quite natural’, I smiled to my own thoughts. ‘In all her appearances I keep in my album she looks young and beautiful.’
‘Are you going to look at me with a schoolboy’s admiration? I will never believe that inactivity and meditativeness are your typical features. Isn’t it time to act?’
She was right, as usual. Could I disobey her, now that we were together at last? And did I really want just to look at her, passively? We will spend this amazing night together, my queen will reject nothing. On the contrary, she will arouse my imagination.
‘I know we have a lot of time ‘til the morning’, she smiled and bent her head a little bit. My imagination began to act. ‘But do we want the time to fly away without leaving unforgettable reminiscences?’
Did I want that? Could I let it happen? What a question! I gave her a smile and took a huge coconut from the hands of the familiar mulatto man whose name I didn’t know. I felt awfully thirsty in such unbearable heat. The coconut was as big as a bucket, and, judging by its weight, it had enough juice to fill several big bottles, though, unlike a bottle, a coconut has no lid or cork.
We both liked comparing a coconut to a bottle of juice, so we burst into laughter. I shifted my glance to a green Cayman parrot with a green-pink neck, maybe the pterodactyl’s age-mate though looking quite cheerful, proud, and intelligent, without any traces of dementia. I saw a map of the parrot’s native Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Cayman Brac, and met the eyes of my charming lady smiling at me gently. She was wearing a light summer dress, and little pearl earrings – maybe a present from her husband.
‘Well’, she said as if calling me for action. ‘Show me what you are capable of’.
A breathless Honduras mountain cow, very fat and not exquisite at all, passed by slowly. She was smelling something out in the grass with her crooked nose looking like that of the Cayman parrot.
‘Look, is that a real cow?’ I asked the mulatto skeptically. He laughed:
‘Don’t give me the runaround, friend! Do show me you can uncork coconuts. Last time, you promised to learn it.’
‘Yes, please show the lady if you have mastered something a real man can do!’ Her words were ringing in the air, teasing me. ‘It’s been a long time since our first meeting, so you have had plenty of time.’
Actually, she has progressive views and, as a rule, does not divide jobs into men’s and women’s. But this time she decided to team up with the mulatto, no matter how conservative his views might be. The king palm trees bent their tops slightly, resisting the wind. The coco palms rustled their sticking branches that looked like tousled hair. A few dark-skinned lads (a typical Pitcairn picture) were setting afloat a new boat. They were too busy to look at me.
I took a machete from the smiling mulatto’s hands, and ably cut off the top, just as he had taught me. The severe spectators applauded a bit condescendingly, though quite positively. I delivered several elegant blows, and proudly showed the hole in the coconut to the cow drivers who had gathered around me. Each of them had a long stick in his hands, as long as a jumping pole. I had never seen such sticks anywhere but here, in Basutoland. One of the cattlemen, a coffee-dark teenager, was balancing on one leg bearing against it the other one, bent in the knee.
‘These are real cows indeed’, I thought warmly, looking at the herd of the cows grazeing not far from the cattle drivers. ‘With horns and udders, as all normal cows. Not like those Honduras creatures named ‘cows’ but looking like typical pigs. What a paradox: this is Bechuanaland, yet the cows are absolutely real, just like ours.’
‘Good for you!’ the cattlemen nodded, and each of them showed me a chocolate-color thumb respectfully. I bowed humbly and looked at the sea beach. A boat carrying a dozen Mauritius fishermen was moving to the open sea. It was terribly hot, even the wind didn’t help, although it was waving the palm trees, the coconut palms, the exotic ‘peacock tails’. Well, no problem at all since the beautiful lady was definitely happy with my skill. I looked into the coconut: there was a lot of juice inside.
‘Will you give me a straw?’ I asked timidly the two dark-skinned lads sitting in the scorching sunshine and weaving large Caribbean baskets. The guys roared with laughter,
‘What do you think we are making these baskets of? This, man, is not just ordinary straw, this is first-class mibi. Have you never seen lianas in Dominica? To drink coconut juice through a liana root would be very exotic!’
‘Very!’ – echoed the green-pink parrot.
I sat down on the white sand in the shade of a king palm tree, feeling sad.
‘A straw is not needed’, my queen said firmly. ‘All these novelties are signs of bad taste, even degradation of morals. Comfort, sometimes seeming, forces out genuine beauty. Feel free to drink directly from the coconut.’
I nodded gratefully and looked at the sea water, blue-and green, dark green, grey, at the sailboats inside the contours of islands…
‘Much has changed during all these years’, she said without smiling. Her new pearl earrings with platinum pendants waved melancholically on her ear-lobes. ‘And mostly for the worse. Poor grandma… What if she saw all this!’
I was drinking the juice from the coconut looking at the cast-iron or bronze guns of the Antiguan fort James, directed at the seashore. Feeling equally sad about the past, I dared to contradict silently,
‘Great-grandma. Or even great great-grandma.’ I don’t know for sure, that’s why I chose to keep silent. She adjusted her white overhead collar. It was breezy under the palm tree, and the coconut juice suppressed the nostalgia. The local boys got tired of diving for pebbles they would sell as turquoise and corals, and began playing the amazing game invented long ago, when her grandma was young. Or was she a great grandma? Closing my eyes, I saw a flock of pelicans flying just above the water. It was getting light. The morning came as unexpectedly as usual.
‘It’s been a good night’, my queen told me, turned half-face again, and looked somewhere far away. Beholding the amazing face I thought, with pleasure, that the beautiful lady had never changed in the past and would never change in the future: she always stays young and magnificent in all her appearances in my album. I don’t keep the portraits in which she looks old.
I am sure she would do the same with mine – if she was a stamp-collector and I was the British monarch.
Michael Blekhman, Montreal, Canada, is a professional linguist (a PhD in linguistics) and English, Russian, Ukrainian writer. In 2011, Michael was awarded a gold Anton Chekhov medal for his achievements as a prose writer. Blekhman is a member of CAA and QWF.