Pradžia / Radikaliai
 

Summer with Monika

‘Hi! My name is Monika, and I'm a socialist.’ proclaimed the stranger, flopping herself down on the beach beside me. Who does she think she is, I thought, invading my personal space so nonchalantly? And who in their right mind introduces themselves like that? I don't like this Monika at all.

Simonas Markevičius
2020 m. Rugsėjo 16 d., 20:50
Skaityta: 13 k.
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From my own bare feet, by the way of her large white sneakers, and her bright yellow socks, and the goosebumps on her scraped-up legs, and her diaphanous dotted red skirt, and her shabby cable-knit blue sweater, my eyes eventually ended up on hers; and just as the sun whose amber reflection I saw in them was sinking in the sea, I was sinking in Monika. As she gently moved her long hazel hair away from her smile, the scent of her sweet perfume overcame my sense

‘What are you doing here, Socialist Monika?’ I asked.

‘Spring break,’ she giggled.

‘I mean, here here.’

‘I was watching my friends play ball over there,’ she said, pointing at four shirtless guys playing volleyball in the distance, ‘and I noticed you. You looked as if you needed company.’

‘And why is that?’

‘I don't know how to explain it, but you looked sad. And you still look sad,’ she added. ‘There is an aura of sadness about you.’

‘It's just who I am as a person. I can't help it.’

‘Ahhh, so you're the mysterious type. Cool, cool... Well, Monika can help it,’ she winked.

‘And you're the socialist type?’

‘Yeah,’ she laughed. ‘I study political science, and I just looove socialism. What's your major?’

‘You ask a lot of questions.’

‘I am certain this is the first,’ retorted Monika, sticking out her tongue.

‘I am not a student,’ I replied, breaking eye contact for the first time.

‘So, what do you do?’ she inquired, bending forward inquisitively.

‘I am not so sure myself.’

‘What do you mean?’ she persisted, furrowing her brow.

‘I wander about, and I write about it.’

‘Will you write about me?’

‘Probably.’

‘What will you write?’

‘Too many questions,’ I murmured, gazing into the distance.

‘Oh, come on! Not that again!’ she laughed.

‘I will write,’ I said, aiming my eyes back at hers, ‘that I met a beautiful young woman, eyes the color of the sea, in which there shines a spark of hope that conquers any misery.’ She froze up. Gazing into her seas, I added, hypnotized, ‘I am drowning.’

‘I think I know what you mean,’ she said, gazing into mine. ‘This has never happened to me before. Certainly, not this fast.’

Suddenly, the crashing of the waves and the rushing of the wind burst back into existence, as the voice of one of her companions, who had approached us unnoticed, broke the silence, ‘It's too dark to play, so we are heading back to the hotel.’

‘You go. I'm gonna stay here a bit longer,’ she replied, looking at my face, as if seeking approval.

‘Are you sure?’ he asked, glancing at her, then at me, then back at her with suspicion.

‘Yeah, it's OK!’

‘As you wish,’ mumbled the friend and ran away.

‘He seemed disappointed,’ I said.

‘That's possible. I think, he has feelings for me.’

‘And what about you?’

‘He's a good guy, but he is still a child. I know, you probably look at me, and look at my funny bright socks, and think that I'm a child, too.’

‘That's not what I think at all.’

‘So, what do you think then?’

‘We didn't even notice when the sun set,’ I said, laughing.

‘True,’ she giggled.

I noticed that she was shivering, so I took off my jacket and draped it over her. She adjusted it slightly, looked into my eyes, and said, ‘You are not going to avoid my question, mister.’

‘I know.’ I replied, reassuringly. ‘I think, we should get moving before we freeze to death.’

She nodded, so I helped her up — ‘Wow, you're tall!’ she yelled — and we started walking along the empty beach.

‘Do you really want to know?’ I asked.

‘Yes!’ she exclaimed, gleefully.

‘I think, the Monika you have shown me so far is just a character you play.’

‘Why do you think so?’ she startled.

‘Because, when I look into your eyes, I see that we are more alike than you care to admit.’ I stopped and glanced at her for feedback.

‘Keep going,’ she encouraged. She seemed to have calmed down.

‘You must have gone through something so terrible, that there was nobody you knew who'd understand it, and when you saw me sitting all alone and dismal over there, you approached me hoping that I would. I see no other reason someone would do something like that.’ I looked at her and saw her walking quietly beside me, staring straight ahead.

‘Then why did you say I was acting?’ she asked, glancing back at me. It had gotten so dark, that I could barely make out her expression. It was one of concern.

‘Because I think that your overly-joyous demeanor is nothing but a mask you put on to hide your pain. Of course, you might also use it as a fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of thing. Nevertheless, I suspect that it had probably started to itch really badly under it, so you wanted to remove that mask and be yourself with someone.’

‘How old are you?’ she asked.

‘Twenty-six. Why?’

‘You are plenty smart for your age,’ she said, and we walked in silence for a minute.

‘If there is anything you want to get off your chest, I'm yours.’

‘Silence is fine,’ she exhaled.

The Monika I'd met was gone. I had a stranger once again beside me. I took her damp, cold hand and said, ‘You can tell me anything you want. I'll be gone by this time tomorrow anyway.’

‘Really?’ she muttered, tightening her grip on mine.

‘Now you seem disappointed,’ I said.

‘Yeah, coz we've just met. Aren't you?’

‘What is life if not a disappointment in itself?’

‘In that case,’ she said, ‘we must make the most of tonight.’

‘What do you want to do?’

‘I don't even know where we are,’ she giggled.

‘I believe, that glimmer over there is the hotel.’

‘Could be. Where are you staying?’ she asked.

‘I'm sleeping in my car.’

‘Whaaat!? Why!?’ she gasped. ‘Where is it parked?’

‘Under those pines there. That way I don't have to pay for a room.’

‘But how!?’

I seemed to have piqued her curiosity. ‘I have removed the rear seats, and I have put a mattress in the back.’

‘I have to see it!’

‘As you wish...’

We started making our way back to where we'd started. She was holding onto my arm.

‘So, how long have you been travelling like this?’ she asked.

‘It's gonna be a year tomorrow.’

‘Really!? Wow! We've got to celebrate!’ she exclaimed, laughing.

‘Deal! My first year as a bum,’ I replied with a smile. ‘How are we gonna do it, though?’

‘We are both pretty smart, so I am sure we'll think of something,’ she giggled. ‘For now, let's enjoy the stars.’

As we were approaching the parking lot, wherein there were four cars, including mine, I instinctively reached for the key, only to realize that it was in the jacket covering her. ‘Could you give me my key?’

‘Sure thing! Which pocket?’ she asked, groping around the jacket.

‘Right, of course.’

She unzipped the pocket, in which she not only found the key but also a notebook. ‘What's this?’ she enquired. ‘It feels so worn.’

‘My notes,’ I said, taking the key from her chilly fingers. ‘It's my travel journal.’

‘Can I read it?’ she asked, brimming with excitement.

‘Go ahead.’

‘Are you sure?’

I nodded. She scampered over to the only streetlight illuminating the parking lot and started flipping through the notebook. ‘You have a beautiful handwriting!’ she exclaimed. ‘And there are drawings, too!’ I had never before seen a grown woman so excited by something so trivial.

‘“April 17th,”’ she began ceremoniously, not unlike a preacher holding a sermon. ‘“I parked on a cliff,”’ she continued, ‘“overlooking the ocean. There was noone around, so I swam naked. The water was cold, but I persevered. Afterwards, I made breakfast and enjoyed the view.”’ She skipped ahead a few dozen pages, mumbling, ‘Hmm, where was it...’ looking for something she must have noticed before. ‘Here! “May 23rd. I stopped by the side of the road on my way through a mountain pass. I shut off the engine and got out. There was no other sound but the wind. Amongst those giant peaks surrounding me, I stood as small as I have ever felt. The pains, the sorrows, and the fears I'd had were lesser than they'd ever been.” Will you...?’ She stopped and closed the journal. ‘Nevermind.’

‘What is it?’

‘You said you were leaving, so it doesn't matter.’ She put the journal back, forced a brief smile, and asked, looking around, ‘Which car is yours?’

‘That silver one, in the corner.’

‘That minivan!? You sleep in a minivan!?’ she yelled, looking at me.

‘Shhh! Not everyone needs to know that,’ I reprimanded. ‘Yes. It is spacious, gets a decent gas mileage, and doesn't stand out.’ I turned the key inside the lock and slid the rear door open, which caused the interior lights to come on. ‘It is old and rusty, but it gets me where I need.’

She poked her head inside to look around, ‘Wow, it's so cozy in here! Shall we get in?’

‘Didn't your mum teach you not to get into vans with strangers?’ I asked, laughing.

‘Too late!’ she replied, jumping in, and flopped herself down on the mattress. She untied and removed her sneakers only to reveal that her bright yellow socks were, in fact, bedazzled with pictures of cartoon ducks. ‘That's much better,’ she sighed, wriggling her toes.

I closed the door and sat down beside her. The lights went out.

‘Spooky,’ she said.

I switched on the light that was running off the other battery and wrapped her in the blanket. As I was adjusting her hair, she closed her tired eyes and slowly put her cold, dry lips to mine. All the words I had wanted to say, ran away from me at that moment. Having noticed my confusion, she withdrew and we stared at each other for a little while, trying to make sense of it all.

‘It is I who is supposed to be the predator, not you,’ I finally said, laughing.

‘Oh, shut up, you,’ she said and engulfed me with the blanket. ‘What did you think we were going to do, silly? Bake cookies?’ she added, unbuttoning my shirt.

‘Listen, we don't have to do this,’ I said, as she was halfway done.

‘No, you listen. I had never met anyone who made me feel this way, and I'm sure as hell not letting you off so easy.’

‘It should be “easily”,’ I said, ‘not “easy”.’

‘Whatever! You can change it in your journal.’

‘I wouldn't change a thing about you, Monika.’

‘Even my socks?’ she gasped.

‘Even your socks.’

‘What a gentleman!’ she giggled.

‘This is mad,’ I said.

‘I know,’ she replied, reaching for my zipper.

Having rid her of her shabby sweater, I was met with a portrait of Che Guevara emblazoned on her T-shirt. Of course! Socialist Monika... Since she wasn't wearing a bra, her nipples were poking out on each side of The Great Revolutionary. I reached out to undress her further, but her hand stopped me there. ‘I need to warn you,’ she said.

‘Relax. You don't have to worry about anything.’

‘Are you sure?’ she asked, bashfully.

I slowly removed her top, exposing her supple pale breasts, and ever so gently dragged my fingertips across the scars on her abdomen. ‘You don't have to say a thing,’ I said, and, as our chilly anatomies merged into one, added, ‘I was wrong about you.’

‘How so?’

‘You are not faking it.’

‘You think?’

‘Yes. I can only imagine the things you've been through, but even they weren't able to take that spark away from you. In fact, they seem to have made it even brighter. I couldn't believe it at first, but now, I'm sure of it: you are the strongest person I have ever met.’

She closed her eyes as she uttered a moan, and we didn't talk till the morning.

When I woke up just after midday, she was still asleep, so I made her breakfast: a bowl of cereal sprinkled with wild stawberries I had picked the day before. All the windows were fogged over, so I wiped one of them clean with the sleeve of my shirt and surveyed the immediate surroundings: the parking lot was almost full, and the tourists were buzzing around us. A potbellied middle-aged man with a boy on his shoulders walked right past, and a girl with a floatie around her waist soon followed. I leaned back, and I watched Monika sleeping. There was chatter all about, and I didn't want it to wake her up because I didn't want us to end. Just a little while, I thought. With that, she yawned and stretched out her arms. She glanced at me, squinting, and whispered something.

‘Good morning, Monika,’ I said. ‘I've made you breakfast.’

‘Sweeet! I'm starving. Can they see us?’ she asked, looking out.

‘Not unless they really want to. That's the darkest tint they had.’

‘Good. I like to eat topless,’ she said, digging into the cereal. ‘Why aren't you joining me?’

‘I only have one spoon.’

‘Come, I'll feed you.’

‘That's fine. I'm not hungry,’ I said.

‘All the more for me,’ she smiled. ‘I love wild strawberries.’ She finished the cereal and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. ‘Do you really have to go?’ she sighed.

‘And what if I didn't? We would spend a wonderful summer together, making it even harder to part ways.’

‘Don't you want a summer with Monika?’

‘Wild Strawberries, Summer with Monika... You know these are both Bergman movies, right?’

‘How does Summer with Monika end?’ she inquired.

‘You'd better not know.’

‘That bad, huh?’ she sighed. ‘Was she a socialist, too, that Monika?’

‘She was Swedish, so it's likely.’

‘What's the worst that could happen?’ she asked.

‘We could get married, have a child, then another, then realize we hate each other's guts and have a terrible divorce.’

‘Considering the things we've been through up to now, even that would be a walk in the park. Nothing can break us!’ she exclaimed.

‘Perhaps you're right.’

‘However hard your life has been, you have to let yourself be happy. Although you don't have anything to lose, you are still afraid, so you might just as well have something. Give me a pen,’ she said, ‘and a piece of paper.’

I tore out a page from my journal and gave it to her. She pressed it against the window and attempted to write. Then, she shook the pen a few times with great vigor, blew on it, and scribbled some words and some numbers.

‘In case you change your mind, this is the name of my hotel and the number of my room. I am leaving this Wednesday,’ she said, giving the page back to me.

I took it, folded it, and put it in the pocket of my shirt. I then sat quietly watching her as she got dressed.

‘So this is it?’ she asked, tying her last shoelace.

‘I guess so.’

I slid open the door, and we both got out. The afternoon was sunny, and the breeze was barely there. As my eyes got used to the bright daylight, I looked at the sky, and the people, and the pines. Lastly, I looked at Monika. Her eyes were glistening as she asked, ‘Why do we have to hurt each other? Hasn't the world hurt us enough?’

I couldn't bear to look into her eyes, so I embraced her for the very last time. The scent of her perfume now seemed even sweeter. Why did she have to flop herself down next to me of all people?

The moment she turned away and started walking was the moment my heart cracked. I need to get away, I thought. I got into the driver's seat and started the car. Where to? I grabbed the map off the dasboard and spread it out before me. The more distant were the destinations I considered, the more absurd they seemed. I'll persevere. I must, I kept telling myself. Everything smelled like her, even me. Especially me. I put the map aside, buckled my seatbelt, and pulled out of the parking lot. I have all these roads ahead of me. That's all I need.

When the hotels and the restaurants were far behind, I finally glanced at the rearview mirror. ‘Damn!’ From the back of the van, lying on the mattress beside a crumpled blanket, and staring at me with bravery and conviction, was none other than Ernesto Che Guevara. As the road became a blur, and I could no longer see where I was going, I pulled over to the side of the road, killed the engine, and cried. What use is there in all these roads if they all lead back to her?

When I had no more tears left, I started the motor again, looked around, and made a U-turn.

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