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WOODEN ZHEKO — TEACHER IN INNOCENCE
To him now my memories were taking me.
In fact he was my teacher in woodcarving. Innocence has never been part of the curriculum.
He carved wood just as we with our nails carve out the dats on our way to our vain goals.
Zheko knew all about wood and its very soul.
In his nickname I instilled love as well as irony… I thought of it. I christianed him after what he loved and truly knew. And he loved me. Because he was so exacting. More, more, more he never stopped repeating. And the more my woodcarvings resembled his the more my life was like his. Now I knew what to carve and how to do it.
Wood is soft and easily malleable in our hands. But we must love and respect its innocence.
Wooden Zheko was not only my teacher but also a good friend of mine. He was innocence itself, not wishing to be a false philosopher. The object and the subject fused in him. What he taught me was not how to carve wood but how to treat it. He did not teach me how to hold the chisel but how to behave towards it. And once wood became material for carving the chisel became part of it. Zheko took up the chisel and became the third point in this triangle. An amazing trinity: there it was. Zheko carved into the wood and into himself. But I realized this later, much later. Zheko was really wood! A fruit-yielding wood. Meeting Zheko in my memories, I remebered Pavlina’s story up there at the Fortress. Her boyfriend sought unself-consciosness and automation, they were his clues to the Universe. He saw and appreciated rituals but never penetrated their meaning. Wooden Zheko also was subject to a certain mechanization. But no, that was rather the rhythm which connected him to the Wood and to Life. So that the Absolute should be born!
Zheko, my teacher in woodcarving and in innocence, had revealed to me the deepest secrets of Being. Labour and Inspiration must fuse for us to taste the fruit of the Spirit!…
I turned my head towards Death and asked:
“Was that, too, vanity and chasing after the wind?”
“No. Ecclesiastes speaks of something different,” she was annoyed.
“And what about you? Won’t you go to Zheko?” my question was thoroughly ironic.
To Zheko she could not go because his instruments were imperishable while innocence could be eternal.
“You have seen I am not all-powerful. Some people must remember the opposite which is true.”
“I know now that Dr Atonkreezle was incurably ill and his discovery is merely and abortive and insane attempt. If Wooden Zheko’s energy and spirit do possess somebody that person will either be turned into wood or go mad…”
“That may happen to the person who brings to life a work of art and even makes love with it… Because it was not ‘it’ but ‘her’, the new gallery manageress could not forgive me my love for Gregoriash’s girl.
“The fact that I have not become insane perhaps proves the opposite!”
“It is too early yet,” she said, “either for insanty or for greatness…”
The pictures of our memories are to be preferrred to the present-day nightmares.
I was within the next picture. I was staying in the biggest hotel in the Russian town of Kursk. After the drinking bout with Alek, Vitya, and Tsukan I found myself a Russian girl. But I got bored even by the violent orgy, so I was now resting. Because even the drinking of champagne drop by drop off a woman’s body just bathed in it may tire you out.
I had taken a shower and was sleeping.
No, I was not sleeping. I was talking, tired, across a fiery desert. I was thirsty and looked for a drop of water. Just a sip. But the desert was endless, the sun merciless and I was walking and looking amidst the sands for a sip of water. The sands generously beguiled me with mirages. I smelled water. I knew there was water somewhere near, I already felt its presence. Just then I noticed the little spring that this, too, may be a mirage which will vanish. I lost my balance and splashed into the water.
I had splashed into real water.
Real water had poured into my hotel room. I saw that the lighter objects had become sailing vessels and the bigger ones resembled lonely islets. The Russian girl, Natashka, was sitting on one of them and was playing with a diminutive paper boat, most probably made from some book of mine.
To my question why she hadn’t woken me up she answered that I had been sleeping very sweetly… I laughed long, before rushing to put the hotel room in order. Natashka’s participation in that operation was absolutely necessary.
“When you dream of fire, get ready for an inundation,” Death let drop one of her aphorisms.
“But that was only a comic mishap. It cannot be an omen,” I objected because she wished to turn my funny experience from the past into a sinister symbol.
“And what will you answer the Sphynx?”
“What sphynx?” I gave a start.
“The one that will ask you about the things you’ve gathered along your way. Of some people he only asks three questions. Of you, he’ll ask more… What have you collected and what are you carrying with you? Or, whence are you coming from and whither are you going? What goal are you pursuing, he’ll ask.”
“The Sphynx did not allow a single philosopher to pass, so my answer will be silence. That is something after all… But way back then it was really funny…”
“Let’s walk on,” Death ordered and I responded to her command.
I found myself in the next picture. A cold winter night.
It was New Year’s Eve. With my nephews Ilko and Nikolai and my niece Yana I was on my way to the “Brezove” mountain chalet. As soon as I realized we had lost our way, I thought with a certain bitterness: this New Year’s Eve will be nothing like the others. Alas, it turned out to be very memorable.
We roamed for a long time and occasionally sank into snowdrifts. I was afraid not so much about myself as about my niece and nephews. A man who had been frozen near Verkhny Mezen and had been lost in the Russian forest stood in no danger of dying in this particular spot, but with those children… Yana, my niece, who was aged 14, was already freezing but the chalet was still out of sight. When its lights flickered in the distance ahead of us I had already been carrying her in my arms. When we reached the chalet I helped her to recover for at least one hour. Only after that did I realize how tired I was.
But now we were out of danger and joined in the festivities. Yana had mustered up enough strength to take a seat at the festive table. As for me, I would have preferred to lie down for a bit and only politeness kept me at the table.
Two years after that Yana disappeared without trace.
No longer could I rescue her from the evil in this world. Probably it was a question of murder or suicide. But we never learnt anything more. And all of a sudden after an absence of six months she again turned up alive. How fate plays with human life!
Death was silent. Even though she always asked questions. Her silence even was a question itself.
I also kept silence. But in my mind I continued answering questions before the Sphynx and before Death.
Did I say “before Death”?
That was more out of politeness. More frightening are the answeres to the questions of Life.
Although sometimes they are so frivolous and absurd.
“Will you move to the next picture?” Death asked me.
I nodded and moved on.
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