Book 1 «DO NOT LEAVE…»
By LESYA ROMANCHUK
Translated by IOURI LAZIRKO
The bus was gaining kilometers vigorously. A silver ribbon of asphalt kept winding around the wheels. On either side of the road was the swift fall of small groups of emerald trees and shrubs, and the sky…! The sky wasn’t simply blue. No, not azure, but sapphire, and a chunk of pure gold shone brightly. The echo of solemn march was brimming all over the place. However, it was reverberating only for Sofia, oh excuse me, Dr. Sofia! The diploma in her pocket required a different attitude towards herself from others and self – from now on she is a doctor, a doc, MD! She wondered how the honored diploma changed not only her life, but also the whole internal essence – she really wanted to refer to herself as Dr. Synycka!
The wheels started swallowing and swallowing the pieces of road, approaching the yesterday’s graduating student of medical institute to the new city, work, and life.
That was a start for which she’d studied for the last six years. As a bee collects honey, Sofia gathered in her memory box everything useful for the future work. As it turns out later, it’ll become irrelevant. But who’d know that in advance? She always thought that she finally heard something most important and meaningful – today is that day to save somebody’s live. Therefore Sofia’s student years weren’t blithe. As the honeybee on flowers, she was flitting from course to course, from subject to subject, from with ‘A’ to ‘A’, easily and with pleasure. And now, Sofia mastered all medical wisdom and as the new star of Soviet medicine, was winding her way to exile. Oh, no. It is better to say to serve. Nope. Well, let’s say, “to a place of work”.
Pleasant weather contributed to slow ripening in the golden curly head of the same kind of her golden and curly dreams. She had seen a growing human line to her cabinet and the patients were moving toward it. “Oh, save us, Sofia Andriyivna!” “Oh, help me, please, don’t let me fade away.” And Sofia Andriyivna looked wise in her large square glasses. She imagined creating miracles just with a pill, an injection, a touch of hand, a single good word. A blind began to see, mutes – talk, infertile women – birthing, prostitutes were getting their virginity back. Grace and glory were on the rise. Amen!
For some reason, in her dreams, Sofia always saw herself wearing glasses with thick glass lenses. This is how a doctor should look like! But who was that less admirable creature from a mirror? It was someone who wasn’t even close to underline the value of the serious diploma. Look at these eyes, nose without freckles, bow-like lips. Nothing from her appearance would suggest that she was worthy of trust.
Sofia had aquamarine eyes. They weren’t blue or green, but a gorgeous mix, an amazing blend. The eyes possessed yet another distinguished and strange feature – they shone. They flamed. They glittered, but not always; occasionally, when she looked at any living creature. She stared at the sky, stars, and trees. It was nothing unusual. But when Sofia looked at a human being, even a cat or dog, then not the stars but the sun was turned on by someone in these blue-green wonders. Such anomaly! Therefore anyone who ever tested the strength of these charms wanted to look into those eyes for a long time. This irritated her beloved husband a lot. He was nobly snoring on her shoulder.
Presently he seemed to Sofia the only one, the island of constancy at the middle of everything suddenly changed in her life. Moreover, he was also a guide in the new town. Actually, Sofia decided to leave native Ternopil for the sake of strengthening and reunion of her young family after three years of living apart.
Oh him, her Igor, her husband! Her “Mr. Perfection”, her sun and heart, the personification of masculine courage, the dark handsome man with princely name Igor who had already worked as a doctor in the town of Kamyanec for three years. That was the exact place where she’d precede her carrer as well. The “capital” of their love was hidden between seven hills. It was leaving a pleasant impression on newcomers with its beauty and special noble spirit of a typical little ancient town.
There had never been a particular industry. Industrialization, fortunately, skipped it and polluted either air or water. It magnetized with its clean, beautiful, and homelike cozy environment. This wasn’t Sofia’s first visit here. When the horse-like-sounding bus went past the city boundaries and sign with its name letters on it, she immediately recognized the ruins of the old fortress on the highest of the seven hills. It was named after Yana, the polish fairytale queen. She acknowledged Orthodox Cathedral, Catholic Church and the former Lyceum Building, where now was a pedagogic school.
Since olden times there were artisans who made shoes and dresses for locals. And always two of ten of its residents were students. The pupils who went to the brotherhood school lived here three hundred years ago. Two hundred years ago the newer generation attended Lyceum. At the present, the town had pedagogical and medical schools. It owned a pedagogical college as well.
At mention of school Sofia started feeling noxious. The moment of atonement came after all the luxury of student life. His name was Appointment. And his evil will assigned her to a sedentary teaching job in a medical school. Sofia’s long-awaited wish was to work in a hospital; she wanted to become an obstetrician.
Her outcry, “and I do not want to be a teacher, I am a doctor!” referred to the high areopagus, which decided the graduates’ fates, didn’t make any effect whatsoever. More than that, she was asked to behave properly. The commission chairman, bluntly sending his sight directly into communism, shrewdly said, “Someone has to do it! If it isn’t you, then who?” Quite not understanding for what sins she had to be that “who”, Sofia sighed deeply in her spirit, and reconciled with inevitable.
Her classmates greeted her with congratulations and a bit of jealousy – she was so lucky! Though she was appointed to teach, but the job was only seventy miles from her native Ternopil and not somewhere in Ferghana, where a dozen of female only gynecologists were badly needed because of the local national traditions. Thanks God it wasn’t Vorkuta, where the doctors of the mentioned above sex were in deficit. And even more, in the prerequisites to the job the doctors had to be necessarily single (perhaps also in connection with the local traditions). And who knows where Sikhote-Alin is?
Therefore, a momentous event would be held today. She had to stand before the vivid eyes of the school headmistress. The moment approached with the inevitability of starting of the new school year and predictability of stopping everything that moves.
Her prediction was right. The bus was the first thing to stop. Choking with the last liter of gasoline it began to cough, sneeze and irresponsive on any chauffeur’s “Bless you!” Consequently, sneezing for the last time on everything in sight, and in particular on a route and bus station, it just stopped in the middle of the street. The doors opened as if a chipped mouth, and spit out almost swooned passengers on a sidewalk opposite the Cathedral.
The sudden stop woke up His Royal Highness the Prince Igor. He lifted his long eyelashes. The sitting nearby women of all ages and marital status adored his striking look. Half of them were paralyzed right away and the others went speechless, at least for a day. Then he arose to his full height as a god-made-statue over the crowd. If he gave an order to sing Hosanna or burn on a fire, the women, charmed by his magnetic eyes, might follow it. The “prince” stretched his, meant to grow for a Hollywood movie star, legs, opened his lips and said…
Actually, what he said was unimportant. He could articulate an alphabet or the multiplication table; his speech would still leave the audience breathless. Igor’s eyelids, eyes, legs – all that was nothing compared to his voice. His voice … The most famous Soviet announcer, Levitan would die of envy momentarily. Homer’s Siren would sink from shame in the good for nothing attempts. Three the best tenors in modern times would nibble not only own elbows but coattails of tailcoats. His voice was deep, velvet-silky, promising-enveloping, low-quivering, highly- ringing, thickly-sweet, softly-lulling, tartly-excitant, firmly- demanding. He would do whatever he pleased with his unfortunate victim. If he commands to attack, regiments will lie down. If he orders to pray, Eskimos, Papuans and bitter atheists will kneel down. But when he was in a lyrical mood – SOS signal to everyone who wears a skirt! Forget about rescues – it’s hopeless!
But at this moment, Igor had no intention to use the power at full capacity. He just pronounced a word, “Arrived!”
And every woman in the bus, from ages seven to seventy-seven, realized that we all had arrived, and arrived forever.
So, as five years ago, Sofia realized that she’s stuck and would go with this man anywhere he led despite the fact that it wasn’t lack of before and after volunteers to entertain the golden-braided beauty. The admirers had appeared everywhere among the rows of men. She felt like a queen but none of them could match the charm of the young prince. So, when Sofia heard in the handset the gently-tempting wave of his magical voice, she immediately agreed to rendezvous, then marriage and a small Natalia in a cradle.
But Sofia had to cradle her daughter alone. Igor graduated from the medical university before their child was a year old. He departed to his princely capital without ado. Sofia had to overcome the other half of student learning distance not as a cheerful free bird but the solemn mother of her family. And this “Arrived!” as if Gagarin’s words (only vice versa), Igor began a new page in their life – separately from parents, family,living together as three.
The passengers stayed still like someone who was under impression of seeing living Greek deity. Igor jumped off the bus onto the sidewalk and stretched his hand to Sofia. He extolled his own gallantry and tried to catch by the edge of an eye what impression he made on provincial public:
“Welcome to my capital, princess!”
Sofia like the English Queen glided out of the bus, as if of a coach or own airplane, and stepped on the ground which supposed to become native for her from now on.
The main street of the town was likea well fattened python with a gradually curved body. It was waiving around green hills, which locals with a considerable exaggeration called mountains. That city was the one of these to fall in love at first blush. It was good-looking, noble, swept and cleaned-up, as though a dwelling of good hostess. It laid down the roadways under your feet with the invitation, “Live here! I’d love you and you’d love me back!”
Sofia wanted to take closer look, to touch and almost embrace these ancient but well-maintained buildings. She could feel the drift of past centuries here. But it wasn’t the time to examine architectural sights. That is why the married couple moved somewhere up the street without looking around. Their hands were interlaced together.
There was two hundred meters left to conquer, but even during this short walk Sofia repeated out loud three times, “Oh, look!” She was motionless near the mini-castle with balconies on the corner, near twin-buildings which were so touchy in its astonished friendship or near a centenary old wall which surrounded the ancient Lyceum.
An un-notable building stood out against that who-knows-where-it-ends wall. Igor’s eloquent look and also a signboard made Sofia clear that they’d not only arrived but also came and this is the place to stay.
After fixing her hairdo and pulling down the skirt which seemed too narrow and short right away, Sofia inhaled a full chest of air, mentally crossed and dived under the arch with the signboard.
There was a fiercely growled truck on the court. The suffocating smoke emanated black puffs from it. Three homeless-looking men surrounded the motor vehicle and had a council meeting. A woman, dressed in a bureaucrat-dark-blue skirt and the same color coat and boots of times of the First World War, managed a process. Her hair gathered into a bun shape at the back of the head, opened a high and wise brow. All hairs were straightened, executing a command, “Attention!” The voice of boss creaked as an unlubricated metal surface.
Sofia felt like to set her hands straight against the seams and started marching as a soldier. She barely overcame her delusional urge and ambled in the dignified to a new professor, as she thought, pace. Sofia passed the threshold, walked through the corridor, climbed up the stairs to the second floor. She stopped in front of the covered doors which had bulletproof skin. The inscription said, “Director”. Only then, five minutes later, the fresh professor apprehended Igor’s desperate attempts to explain her that the gray-blue-pompadour-creature on the yard is her new boss.
Inspired by the weather, city, and her future iridescent plans Sofia’s festively-loving mood began to evaporate slowly. Certainly, at her previous place of living she received from her husband a detailed description of all her future supervisors. She knew the establishment is governed by a maid with military tempering and a nickname “Flounder”. Flounders’ one eye was lost during the last war but it wasn’t an obstacle for her to keep the school attendees well disciplined. That was out of Sofia’s expectations.
The sound of certain steps broke the silence and the comrade-director appeared in the corridor. She irresponsively opened the door to her cabinet. After five minutes the familiar creak tone needled through the doors, “Come in!” Sofia entered together with Igor. Her both hands held a folder with documents. The novel employee was cursing herself mentally for the “business” dress, which at home seemed to her very strict, beautiful and appropriate.
In the office the walls stood in a slender manner, a floor stopped breathing after a command to “Lay down!” in parallel to the ceiling. Even a self-willed wind lost the rights and could not rock the white- sterile window shades. On an ideally clean and well-organized table, it seemed that even an earthquake would not be able to move a single scrap of paper. In this barrack the newest candidate for the rank of Junior Lecturer felt a complete nonentity, and half-naked in the white lace blouse, too transparent in her black skirt which seemed now abysmally short. And her feet? Oh my God! When did her legs grow so long? Just how unlucky can it get? For the sake of what god I put on those high-heeled shoes? Probably an instant passed since the grey-dark-blue dinosaur examined the new employee, but the instant seemed to her like a year.
Papers began to rustle and something creaked again:
While Sofia tried to say something like, “Yes!” with her trembled with excitement lips, it creaked one more time:
“And what would you like to teach here?”
“And you do not know!” Sofia was defiantly boorish but only in her mind. The only sound she was able to produce aloud was:
“Obstetrics and gynecology. Well, we have a vacancy. But you can take it only after one year of internship.”
“With pleasure,” Sofia Andriyivna strived to say, but murmured, “All right!”
Flounder looked over Sofia’s documents. When the review reached to the diploma’s inset with grades on it, the stare out of her glass-free eye somewhat had softened. It wasn’t a daily enjoyment for the director to observe all Straight A’s in diplomas, and she also knew the price of it. Sofia knew it as well, for the entire graduation class it was just two diplomas of this kind out of 450 graduating students – her and Anna Horbonis’. The price was high because those A’s were obtained only by their own heads, minds, and knowledge. Neither of the girls had a dad-professor nor an associate mother-professor, so they took the honors and departed together to expend medicine network in the regional centers.
The conversation was interfered by Igor’s half-overtones of his baritone voice. It was a miracle. The soldier in a skirt, this brick of ice or, I should say, reinforced concrete wall began to articulate sound of the human voice,” Congratulation, Ihor Omelyanovych, with a graduating student. Now you’ll work together. Good luck!”
The last words were intended for Sofia that is why she felt in it a tint of grinding. Contrary, the glimpse, which this grey mouse, this stubborn in her girlhood crocodile in shoes endowed her husband, spoke for itself. Over sudden it was hard to say which eye was unreal – they both shone. “Forgive me, Lord, the sin of mocking at human disability!” Sofia reproached herself. “But Ihor, him? The granny is over sixty, and he is such a fruit cake!”
Sofia said goodbye and walked out from the cabinet. In fact, she was happy about not working under the one-eye supervision for at least a year. She was glad to pass the audience without any remarks in relation to her attire. The girl felt some sense of achievement in serving her duty and passing the deservingly self-possessed test which with the same force engulfed Sofia only after a dentist visit. The feeling of total happiness was darkened only by the necessity to report her arrival to the chief doctor’s office. She prepared herself for one more meeting with a “block of ice” since, presumably, this was the type of personality kept in such cabinets. Sofia reached the acquainted from times of her internship office without any assistance. She was amazed to find and enter it quickly without waiting in a long line.
She was greeted by some not tall, chubby, amazingly dexterous and agile man. In a flash he grabbed papers out of her hands and after reviewing it asked his secretary to place SynyckaSofia Andriyivna on the list of internships specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. He sat down, attentively looked at her and the start talking.
“Well, I see, you’re a doctor-intern. Do you know the classification of doctors?” he questioned with doubt.
While Sofia was feverishly turning pages of her memory hoping to find some still fresh knowledge of social hygiene and organization of health, he chattered, “Aha, you do not know, you do not know, miss honorary student! Well, the doctors classified into the four categories: A, B, C and D. ‘A’ stands for “average”, ‘B’ – “be-a-woman”, ‘C’ – “call-me-a-sergeant”, and ‘D’ – “damn-interns” !
The man was excitedly laughing and winking at the same time to Sofia. She was confused about her classification. Why over sudden she was taken up to two categories – ‘B’ and ‘D’. The chubby was dying of laugh selfishly thinking of how cool he is in his own eyes and others.
They agreed that the first day of Sofia’s new job would start tomorrow. She headed to the school to meet Igor there.
The sun now had rolled over the midday position and Sofia’s fine model boots felt like a pair of high-heeled pliers. She was hungry and tired. Most of all she desired to conceal her under a warm masculine wing and forget about all dangers she faced today and expected to challenge tomorrow.
So far Igor was the one who expected her.
“Well, how are you, Miss Doctor? How did you like the chief?”
“He is much better than the headmistress. Ihor, I’m dying with hunger. If I’m not fed by the next half hour, you are at the risk of becoming a young widower! “
“No problems, milady. We are expected in a restaurant, the dinner is reserved, and the orchestra plays a march. “
They walked up to the public fast-food establishment. The imagination had to work really hard – it wasn’t easy to take it for a fancy restaurant. The promised orchestra didn’t play, but a waitress zoomed up to the table in a flash. She straitened her features which were seductive twenty years ago. On her unaccustomed to smile face she portrayed a grimace, which should symbolize the greatest degree of friendliness. The waitress murmured, “Igor Omelyanovych, so long no see. The last time it was two weeks ago, probably. Should I bring everything as usual for you and your lady?”
Igor looked at the woman surprised. She obviously went over the limit with her chat. If eyes could kill, she would be carried over to the cemetery. Sofia didn’t show out the instant shock she suffered and nodded affirmatively, “Yes, as usual.”
Without hesitation, a bottle of vodka and champagne with proper appetizers materialized on the table. Well, if so “as usual”, no wonder why I and Natalia lived for three years on my scholarship. Sofia had some flashback moments. The situation required a reaction as an immediate scandal with smashing plates or at least her husband’s jowl. Fortunately for him, she was awfully exhausted and weighed for the best not to make out of his legal wife arrival some kind of show for the entire city. Sofia squeezed her heart in a fist and decided, as Scarlet, “I will think about it tomorrow.” She picked up a fork and pretended to be muddle-headed.
Igor’s eyes were jumping from Sofia to the waitresses, which gathered in the corner, and back. The group probably explained to the colleague how it was inappropriate for their profession to hand over the habits of a regular visitor to a spouse. He was consoled by the fact that the thunderstorm passed through without incident and started enjoying the food and drinks. Certainly, Sofia wasn’t able to finish the whole bottle of champagne, but there was a droning sound in her head and she began to feel the power to live again.
They stepped out of the restaurant when the first stars were splashed over the sky and the city was besieged by unusual tranquility.
“Let’s go home, honey!” Igor murmured gently while escorting his better half somewhere up the street. The better half wasn’t quite comfortable with her walking. Probably, bubbles in a glass and the swarm of events made the legs two times heavier than usual.
Soon they approached the house, walked down the long and dark corridor. Igor found a key in his pocket. Sophia knew he’d lived here for three years. She happened to stay in this unfriendly place during infrequent visits. It wasn’t hard to guess that she had to spend her first night here in this wonderful city. The key softly opened the door. She heard how the switch clicks and lighting up the room. Sofia closed her eyes, believing in that, when she opens them the surrealistic spectacle disappears. She was wrong.
At first, her nose was struck with some steady stagnant smell of various alcohol mixtures of vodka, wine, and cognac. Sofia observed a few rows of empty bottles in one of the dark corners. Even the brightness of the orphan lamp that hung down on a wire at the middle of the room ceiling couldn’t add better impression about the dwelling. In the glass with beer there were peacefully soaking cigarette butts adding its aromas into the cocktail of odors. On a table, covered with the worn and never washed oilcloth, there were plates, bowls, glasses with leftovers and liquid of unknown etiology. All of this was abundantly covered with mould. The butts stuck out everywhere, covering the table, floor, and window-sill. Two beds were leaned next to the one of the walls. It was hard to describe in words the beddings on them. The black and old rag served as a sheet. It was unapt even for a floor washing. Sofia barely recognized her home pillow and blanket form the dormitory, which Igor acquired three years ago. It was nothing else to say rather than “Oh!”
“Igor,” she exhaled, “whew, is this the way you live?”
“What did you think? It isn’t easily to live in a dormitory without a wife.” the great martyr said it with a tragic voice and rolling his eyes heavenward.
It wasn’t time for an educational conversation. Sofia didn’t will to sleep in a barn anyway. That is why she took off her business dress and inquisitional Spanish knee-boot-shoes and put on the dressing gown. In one step, she swept off whatever was on the table including the oilcloth and threw it to the garbage. She repeated the same task with the dirty rugs on beds; consequently opened the window. The room was filled with the smell of dame’s rockets which grew under windows.
The bottles also found their place in the dump. Three buckets of water helped the floor obtain the color it was painted once. After two hours the war with dirt was ended. Sofia covered up beds with clean crispy starch linen brought from home and extremely exhausted fell on the pillow. Igor, who for all these hours watched the heroic battle of his wife with carefully cultivated pigsty, was lying in a bed and occasionally encouraging her to work with phrases like, “You’re my honeybee, my working beauty.” Suddenly he got excited. After a good supper and resting in the fresh, clean, and filled with night spices of dame’s rockets room our hero-lover was full of sexual desire. Inspired by his longing he deftly slid under the blanket next to his wife.
“Not now,” Sofia thought. Her soul yearned for tenderness. After this long full of excitement and work day she wished to lie quietly beside her husband and hear his murmurs in an ear. Sofia’s tired body didn’t want to fulfill the matrimonial obligation!
Since the last year everything was not quite the same as before, but to deny a bit of pleasure for her very handsome guy she wasn’t yet used to. After Igor’s sacral “cat-kitty, murmur” she nestled around such well-known and close body. After his murmuring the ritual continued with a kiss somewhere behind an ear. Somehow lately Igor was skipping the rest of the prelude. She didn’t have enough time to turn herself on since he was already performing his matrimonial tasks with so precise concentration but with not enough degree of tenderness Sofia needed. Once the wife tried to explain her expectations the husband gave her such blundered look that she weighed for the best to stay silent. And now zealously and fiercely he undertook the journey. Igor’s caresses were as some hammering-in-nails process. Unfortunately, that love-nail didn’t want to acquire ferrous hardness for some reason. It made Igor furious. He felt trying all the same routine to prove his masculine power. Then, discouraged by unsuccessful attempts, he jumped away from the bed and grabbed an unfinished bottle of vodka. Igor poured the liquid to fill up a glass and drank it in one shot. Consequently, he elevated his red brimmed with vodka and some wicked force eyes and strained off with the sibilant awful voice:
“So, slut, how is it to you for you sleep around that for the normal guy you can get aroused?”
Sofia got speechless.
After splashing out couple even more offensive in its groundlessness words he felt dead drunk with his face down and body across the bed. She felt astonished, empty, and mocked.
All today’s adventures – road, headmistress, chief doctor, restaurant, waitress, incredible mess in which her meticulously neat and clean-demanding husband was dwelling – everything was interlaced in a tight ball and blocked Sofia’s throat. The ball pressed in, smothered and suddenly exploded with bitter-bitter tears. She wept without wiping her tears, glad that nobody sees it, sobbed her heart sincerely. Suddenly, Sofia felt someone softly touched her cheek. She raised amazedly her eyes. Who is here? It was a ray of the moon. He slid over her face softly like a handkerchief and wiped out the peas of tears. The full moon was radiating the silver light above her. He smiled and said, “Now you live in our city, girl. There are wicked and evil people, but here we are – homes, grass, trees – your friends. These tears are first to cry but not the last. It is only the beginning. Be strong, girl.”
Believing that it was a dream Sofia shook her hair. It fell on the shoulders combed thoroughly by the lunar comb. She walked up to the window, looked at the moon and he – she could swear – smiled in response. The sky started turning pallid. Somewhere, far, the sun was rolling out changing its silver brother. It seemed that the night had never started for Sofia. The morning, the first day of work for Dr. Sofia Synycka had just begun.
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