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The Freight

    The snow was disintegrating into a puddle beneath my feet at the cliff where I’d been standing for the past four hours, keeping my eyes sharply peeled as I was commanded. I was unnecessarily prudent, I was fulfilling the order punctiliously, although I couldn’t feel my toes anymore. Wrapped up in thick, harsh wool, I was twiddling with the half-smashed button on my tweed jacket’s sleeve. Can a button undertake an overhaul? It’s hanging loosely; the button is still there – what astonishing willpower. 

    It’s nice to have infinite dreams – tomorrow will be something else to accomplish. Something that will not let you sleep prostrated peacefully in the snow. Today I shifted just two steps to the right because I needed that pine to cover my head, not to block out the view of the hurtling train I was supposed to take notice of and act covertly. Untouchable peace, peace, peace! This is why I’m on the watch out, my solemn duty. You can have a peek into the traveler’s backpack to see how far they’re expecting to go. This observation tells you everything with utmost certainty. Curiously, there aren’t many items in mine – only the essentials, no encumbrances. Like this guy with a cart from a movie that we caught a couple of months ago. There’s no need for things unportable and immovable. After all, I’m going to see the world, not the insides of this spilling-out satchel.

    What time is it? The clock’s hand fell off, so I’m counting seconds now, summing and rounding them up. The button can testify that calculus was never my strongest suit, and we were equal in hopeful resentment. She’s still not there. Damned clock! The sun has ebbed away, and I can’t see its shadow falling on the glimmering heap beside me. I’m twitching from the shivers that penetrate my frail, gnarled, curdled body. Imagine there are people on Earth who never saw the snow crystallize and dematerialize, not even once. Neither did they behold the child throwing snowballs at the fortress of the sworn enemy with the utmost greed and savagery of a person who has a vast kingdom to lose. A large, giant kingdom with four high-lifted, ivy-covered towers and no one in the lively golden chambers.

   The day before yesterday, I made a life-changing investment that would sweep my whole miserable life from the sidewalk everyone treads upon. She’s still not here. I’ve been foolish with money all my life. Not the profanity of swindlers and tricksters by the road, nor were those extorting bums shaking the hell out of you until you submit to their undeniable prevalence in quantity and malignant prowess. Father always told me one should never make any plans for the money one hasn’t earned. I never defied him. I knew what I would spend my fortune on. Where’s my luminous Ravenna? Damned, damned clock! In this land of whiteness, I have no idea when to expect the dusk and leave these bushes. What masquerade for the sake of the common good, Orlanda! The indecisiveness just kills my brain! Yes! The coal industry, mining, ship cleaning (a ship was sailing to Cyprus, I sure could see it through the square barred window), the cotton factory, and whatnot I broke my back for, a bit of unknowing gambling every once in a while. I squinted because I spotted a resemblance of a dark slender figure heading towards me. I am so careless with money, and I’m so glad I have someone to sort things out for me. The tunnel is lit by the lanky lamps – what for? Everything’s white, and no one else’s here. I do remember I was allowed to have short 5-minute breaks to abandon my stealthy position, and I would use them to stretch out my limbs here and there to get it all out. It doesn’t matter how long exactly I need to wait before the departure. Ravenna’s old man was a household name in our neighborhood; no one dared to speculate about the origins of his inconceivable income. The most polished porch, the most immaculate shirts, the biggest lawn, the prettiest dogs, except for the only protruding intruder. They moved from place to place at her father’s will, never settling down, never forming any foundation. She’s been my friend ever since the accident at the bog. God, I hope she’s coming soon. If I have to be the only steady thing in this blizzard of callous snow, I will. Have you ever seen those massive road signs no one takes into account? The train was the best bet, even if it got derailed or collided. 

     How is this mill over there still revolving? I’m jumping on one foot as if I’m having a seizure to make any sense of my inner body temperature. What are those Pushkin’s devils whirling around me in the storm I am more fierce than? I implored her to clasp that branch while I was pulling her out from the mire. The howls of these brownish hollow-eyed hounds are swallowing the last shred of hearing I preserved since that night and his threats. The route is tricky, and the road is bumpy and turbulent and the grass is not as green as that on billboards advertising a new life built with cement and electricity. I’ve shoved more bundles of clothes in just in case for the first stop we would be making in Norway on the way to the warmth of the South of Italy. We could never be short on money; we’d have an abundance of it if we didn’t exploit gas. Ravenna burst out as we put Charlie Parker on. Nemo saltat sobrius. And I cursed myself for being abstemious when her bruises dissolved and she was gleaming and gleaning me from my trivially sorrowful corner heightened by Schubert. What a peculiar bar it was! What do pushers get in return? I read somewhere, “The ignited change of tune bears witness to the spark arrayed against the evil forces of coercion.” I knew how painfully true and unequivocal it was when we were hanging the map on the wall and delineating the escape, the lane,  and the rails, the tunnels, other passages, whetting our newborn curiosity. 

     Did that thin branch know what unyielding life she exuded when I assured her it was that we would never run empty on and that we would become nomads, which is no worse than staying in. Can the severest cold beat you up? The trees lose all they collected in winter, too. All my childhood, I thought they cut down their old branches for the new ones to bud out. But the sycamore has been standing grittily chopped for three years now. I could never really grasp why the woodpeckers still think there’s someone in the bark to pick out from the quivering solitary tree. If there was someone – they died of my fear of tardiness in such circumstances. I started digging up the ground to see if the lilies of the valley we planted during the 8th-grade camping trip at this exact spot were still there, by the ravine. 

     There was a biblical legend that the first lily of the valley sprung from the tears of exiled Eve. Nonetheless, I’m convinced that they have nothing to mourn nor lament over – the lilies rose from hibernation, the first to summon the joyous May for the aid in disseminating the jubilation. How we hollered, intoxicated by the heavenly smell we gorged on that led to irresistible ingestion! I wasn’t any more afraid than when she asked me to ax her stomach out and pump the blood back into her lungs and alleviate the dizziness. I found the remnants ripped off the stems, tortured by the winter they loved quintessentially that couldn’t let them just flourish there. I’m yearning for the time the loss will be made up for. My lungs are stony frozen now. In the interim, we would disobey the curfew and sneak out, lest we should be suspended. Bona fide bonfire at the chapel as high as the tolling bell and the hoots of owls. “Fly high, fly low, kick the smoldering rock” was a delirious-in-its-essence incantation. We were shooting for the moon while he was cornering her and shooting in the void, the heft of the shot muffled by my belated scream. 

      I don’t know what exactly gave me the idea that oaths are unbreakable and red threads running inside are unsnappable. It’s okay, it really is, if you didn’t show up to hop the freight because the main point is that, as we agreed, I need to hide in surplus hey and not breathe at all and make it further scraping by. Flexibility is critical, and I am adjusting our arrival time and the overall plan. I lay in the horrifying dampness with bated breath; a splinter in my eyes made them water with chest-tightening panic. We did walk home afterward, didn’t we? Didn’t I carry her along the rails of this same road? Didn’t I sense the fading pulse? I cursed the wagon for having such an unimaginative ceiling, holes and all, and the sifted evil snow that covered my lids. She made me believe I’d run out of all the vitriol I used to have and hadn’t replenished the supplies. 

      The warden threw me out of the horse paradise and called me all sorts of derogatory names – a clueless kid with no brains in my skull, from what I remember. The invective only invoked pity, as I knew he had no train to catch. Perhaps, I thought it was for the better when I saw my wagon standing calm, half drowned in the avalanche, motionless, disengaged from the receding orderly caravan. Let the reckless joy pierce, be slaughtered, and be transformed. 

      I was rested assured you only need to want intensely enough and better than others – firmly, staunchly, irrevocably, you’d conjure it up like an alchemist seeking the metamorphosis of gold. What’s the cost of a free ride in this world anyway? So much the better for the juggernauts who take off facetiously, unbeknownst to the believers. Therefore, I’ll have to walk a few miles more till the next station far from the moronic lunatic and have a go at the last wagon packed with all sorts of goods, with the boxes and the shipping labels taped to them, cognizant of their direction and all the replaced wheels. 

   Poor Ravenna. We agreed to meet on the other side. The wind is whistling soundly, placid as I am in my trudge. Phweeee. Phweeee. Oscillating and again. Phweeeeee. Phweeeeeeee.

Anna Ufaeva regards writing as a means of self-discovery and profound human connection unhindered by boundaries and distance. Visit her YouTube channel. “The Freight” is her debut publication.