I did what I was told. I knew that it was over between us.
I picked up the phone again and pressed the receiver close to my ear. During that embarrassing moment, I found my heart beating wildly. My head was spinning out of control. I wished to be near him on the one hand, and I also wanted to be finished with him. All of a sudden, the phone rang.
"Are you ready to go, darling?" he asked me.
"Because I’m afraid."
"What are you afraid of?"
"I only want to sit by your side in a cosy corner of a little coffee house. That’s all."
"Okay. Just come here and we’ll go to a milk bar nearby. Hurry up. I’ve been waiting for you for ages," he urged me.
I got up and jumped out of bed. I added makeup to my face carefully: a little rosy powder over my cheeks and a few strokes of eyebrow pencil and some applications of lip stick. Meanwhile, my heart kept beating hard.
My taxi halted by the roadside so that I might buy a small packet of chewing gum. Suddenly, I realised that I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet.
He welcomed me at the hotel gate.
"Today you look more beautiful than ever in those smart clothes," he remarked.
I was now wearing a pair of blue jeans and a black T-shirt. I knew that he was comparing my current way of dressing to my former days of silk and elegance.
I followed him into the hotel with hesitant steps. My handbag seemed to be trembling, too. He told me to sit down on a soft sofa in the lounge and took a seat close to me. He looked into my eyes and seized my cold hands. Different from mine, his hands were very warm and dry. Gradually, I felt his warmth spreading to me from his fingers. I evaded his amorous looks and smiled timidly.
"Let’s go to a refreshment stall near here, dear," I suggested in an anxious voice.
"Coffee and other drinks are available here too. We’ll rent a room for chatting and drinking, okay?" he asked me.
It seemed to me that I was turning to stone. I knew what was awaiting me that room.
He went to the reception desk to rent a room.
"OK, let’s go," he ordered.
I followed him like a silhouette.
In the room, there were only two small armchairs. He took one and I sat down in the other, opposite him. Again he looked into my eyes.
"What are you afraid of? Can you tell me now?" he persuaded me.
Instead of looking at him, I glanced at the door. Hanging on the knob was a note saying, "Don’t forget to shut the door!" Finding it still half closed I felt quite at ease.
"I’m afraid," I said to him.
"Because tomorrow I’ll have to face the truth. I’ll have to call a spade a spade, which will be painful. That’s all."
"Every day, people lead deceitful lives. Why can’t we treat each other honestly? You like me, don’t you?"
I nodded my head.
"I do like you very much indeed," he said, putting his warm hands on mine.
"Has your fear subsided?" he asked me.
I stared at his face with a puzzled look.
He stood up and dragged me closer to him, then he placed his first kiss on my cheek. I got so excited that I felt like fainting. I leaned against his body. He hugged me tightly.
Before losing consciousness, I realised that his warm lips were touching my breast. I gave him kisses. In fact, I had been wanting to do this for a long time, ever since I first saw him.
"How can I forget such a lady as you?" he stammered.
I was in tears because of happiness.
I stretched my legs on the bed and placed my hands on his forehead. He kissed me again and again with his warm lips. I did my best not to weep. Suddenly, I remembered that the door was still ajar and I became a bit frightened. I glanced at the door. It had been under lock and key. I asked myself when he had closed it.
He went into the small bathroom. The water from the shower splashed on his body noisily. I felt very sleepy. I needed a sound sleep, perhaps. By chance, I remembered his words: "How can I forget such a fair lady as you?"
I tried to resist the temptation of sleep in order to enjoy this happy moment.
I thought a lot about him. He seemed to be a man crowned with the halo of fame. Every night on the current affairs TV programme he always appeared. Nevertheless, these things were by no means significant to me.
As an ordinary but intelligent young woman I was well aware that my success lay in knowing myself. I knew that within a man of high position and authority like him, there was an ordinary person.
I was not wrong. The moment I was in an ecstasy I regained my consciousness and recognised his sobs slightly resounding over my breast, and I took pride in having made him that blissful.
He stepped out of the bathroom with a white towel around his body. Finding me still stretching myself on the bed, he covered me with a thin blanket. In order to tease him, I tossed away the blanket again and again whenever he spread it over my naked body. After that I walked into the bathroom to have a shower too. Looking at myself in the mirror, I found my lips rosy, my complexion lily-white and my eyes bright. Wrapping myself in a large white cotton towel, I went out. He was now dressed elegantly. I looked into his eyes. They no longer seemed angry. On the contrary, his glance was now tolerant and passionate. He reached me from behind and wiped away the tiny drops of water on my shoulders.
"Your shoulders are still wet with water," he observed. My body trembled again with his kisses. Turning myself round, I expected to receive another burning kiss on the lips. However, he only caressed my cheeks. When I finished putting on my clothes, I sat down in an armchair and said nothing. He was looking out the window. I was terribly frightened of such a critical moment.
"Let’s go home, shall we?" I suggested.
"Yes, let’s" he answered.
I stood up. Meanwhile, he remained sitting in his armchair.
"Sadly, I’m unable to remember which poet of the two – Pushkin or Lermontov – is the author of this line of verse:
Farewell, if this time is the last one...
In high spirits, I sang a few love songs as if they had come from the bottom of my heart. My eyes turned bright and my cheeks blushed.
Twenty-four hours later, right in the middle of the afternoon, my heart beat wildly again. I had been waiting for that phone call from him. Five, ten, fifteen, then forty-five minutes elapsed. The work day was drawing to a close. My heart seemed to be on the point of exploding. Without waiting any longer, I dialled his number.
"Hullo, I’m listening," resounded somebody’s weak voice.
I was doubtful if it was his voice.
"Excuse me. Is that... ?" I asked timidly.
"Yes, it’s me," responded a languished voice.
"You’ve forgotten your poor girl, haven’t you?"
"Oh dear! It’s you! How can I forget you, my dear?"
Undoubtedly, it was him. Nevertheless, far from the voice of a man in love, his sounded businesslike.
"How are you today? I was going to ring you, too," he asked me.
I stopped short.
"I have an appointment in a few minutes. I wish you good health, youthfulness and happiness," he added perfunctorily.
"And ‘your firm stance in love as well’. Is that what you mean, my darling?" I said sarcastically.
"Right! At a convenient time, we’ll meet again. By the way, meeting each other by chance in the crowd would be more delicate," he told me.
"Yes, I do understand that this is a delicate matter," I replied gloomily. My limbs shook as if I had just caught a cold. Disappointment made me collapse completely. When I was approaching the rendezvous as he had suggested, I began to worry. However, I put it aside with hope and confidence.
In despair, I hoped against hope. Forty-eight, then seventy-two hours, passed by and I was still waiting! The fear that I might be betrayed once again made me unable to lift up the receiver.
Suddenly, sorrowful ideas came to me and drowned me in a sea of suffering. "What kind of woman am I in your mind? Is it the fact that I’m thirsty for fame and fortune?" I asked myself. "No, far be it from me! I’ve been leading the life of a happy woman. What’s more, I’m a respected young woman. In my heart of hearts, I know that I’m not a girl of easy virtue. I fell in love with you while I turned down another youth’s sincere offer of marriage," I told myself.
I could lead an independent life. Both my paradise and my hell were different from those of others. My paradise was only twenty-seven steps away and I had just finished twenty-six. Only another step and I would be in the realm of dreams! At this moment, I felt as if I had been dissolved into him, and I imagined that he would say that he loved me very much. Now, forty-eight then seventy-two hours had elapsed and what I badly needed were his affectionate greetings and considerate inquiries. But all my dreams had not come true.
What paradise! The one in which Adam and Eve, just because of love, had to leave forever to descend to this mundane world! As for me, only because of love was I unable to reach paradise! Where was he for the time being? Was he still in his own paradise?
Every evening, while watching him on TV during the current affairs programme I could not take my eyes off him. I remembered that he promised he would see me at a convenient time and I also recollected the line of verse he had read for me while we were in our own heaven. He seemed different then, which took me a long time to understand. And I had not been myself either! With confused ideas that had been torturing me horribly, I had found a way out at last: taking the story of a streetwalker as a lesson. The story was that one night after having sex with a casual passer-by, she received a counterfeit banknote. Instead of crying over the fraudulence, she only said to herself, "I’ve been raped!"
Actually, just another step and I would fall into the hell where neither suffering nor happiness would await me!