He met her in a circus while the night was falling, and that was the only moment when he was pretty sure he knew who she really was.
The enormous tent pulsated with a variety of colors. A little fellow came out into the arena, holding high over his head a banner that said “Applause”. Women were cheering, men were flinging up their black hats, and there was only one silent person who seemed to be distinguished from the general atmosphere of enthusiasm – the moments of rapture that disappear forever when the consecutive joys push them into oblivion. One person seemed to be far away…
“Can I join you?” she asked in a mellifluous voice and with one of those natural, slightly coy smiles that instantly make another human being feel happy.
Adam only nodded, being abashed by her beauty. However, it wasn’t a kind of beauty from the posters passed over on the way through the city, definitely not – there was something more to it, some inexplicable flicker that must have been the object of admiration of poets in the 19th century, whose poetry the boy read so eagerly.
There were elephants, acrobats and clowns in the arena, while the boy was unable to utter a single word. Looking back into his memory, he tried to justify himself – he wasn’t anyone special, after all. During family dinners, he didn’t say anything more than he was expected to. At school, he always remained in the background, at a safe distance from all the events and people who could destroy the world of straight roads with defensive walls that he had constructed for himself with such doggedness. He was able to find his own life only in books, the avalanche of which cluttered his room in a way that it wasn’t possible to pick a step without touching book spines or scattered sheets of paper filled with words, which even he couldn’t make sense of. Hardly anyone visited his room, anyway…
A thought about trying to change something dawned on him only when the girl sat next to him, spreading around the scent of other lands.
There was something positive in her, a secret that had always attracted the explorers. She was rocking in the chair and smiled widely every time the audience burst out laughing.
“What’s your name?” The boy stammered out while the little fellow was crossing the arena with the banner saying “Silence”.
“Anastasia,” she answered gracefully, giving another adorable smile and thus completely captivating the boy. It was the only word that left her mouth, and she returned to the show as if she had already forgotten what happened a second ago, directing her thoughts onto the blurry future. She kept rocking to the rhythm of the drums and looking around attentively, being fascinated by everything. He kept repeatedly casting furtive glances at her face, without regretting anything that had lead him to his current situation. And so continued their non-verbal conversation.
When other spectators were hurriedly leaving the circus tent, he still didn’t move from his seat, replaying the scene of learning what life was although he was unable to seize it. He could be born and then die in an endless circle just to relive this moment.
In addition, he couldn’t see any other way to shatter the order of the day and follow the mysterious girl, who was both his beginning and his destination that he had always pursued, in spite of the fact that he hadn’t known about it. So he started to force his way through the loud and merciless crowd, maintaining safe distance from Anastasia and doing his best not to lose her. She wasn’t tall, she wore an oversized jacket and a checkered shirt. She proudly emerged from the crowd and headed for the arena. She disappeared behind a violet curtain, amidst the stunning flickers of the colorful lamps.
In his entire life, it was the first instance of doing something without paying any attention to what others might say. He drew the curtain with a gentle move and, jumping from one shadow to another to remain undetected, he stealthily sneaked among the bunches of clowns and acrobats with painted faces wearing queer-looking costumes, sharpening his senses on the path demarcated by the perfumes, the gestures that appeared and disappeared, and the light wisps of Anastasia’s wavy hair which stood out from the crowd. He entered a room full of mirrors where a tall curly-haired boy was removing the clown make-up from his round face. Adam knew him perfectly well. The Boy in Make-up kept smiling rogue-like, noticing in the mirror the reflection of Anastasia who was waiting for him with her arms crossed. She was presenting a row of white teeth in a smile similar to those of movie stars that contained the multiplied joy of all the movie viewers.
“Has anyone ever told you that your smile is fabulous?” He turned around, winking one eye meaningfully.
“You know how much it costs me…”
“I love making you smile because it makes me feel alive, and happy…” He interrupted her, looking deep into her eyes and coming a few steps closer.
Anastasia turned around, observing her reflection in a high mirror and remaining immersed in the white light reflected in it. They were alone in the room.
“I won’t be able to come with you to the place where you want to take me but I will come here to see your performances. Every day…” she said with her eyes closed; the Boy in Make-up was hurt the most bitterly by the fact that Anastasia wasn’t entirely present in any of the worlds she dwelled in.
“And you’re surprised you attract the attention of passers-by…” He put his arm around her, they left the circus tent, and went to a meadow where chamomiles blossomed and a blissful scent of sage spread around.
From this moment on, Adam’s thoughts were occupied by everything that could be somehow connected to the name “Anastasia” – it was a light at the end of the tunnel and a special incantation used to forget about all the bad things he experienced, or simply to bring a bit of joy into his everyday humdrum. He got up in the morning in the hope that on this day he would be rewarded for his patience, and he would have an opportunity to talk to her for a while, to exchange at least a couple of words that would breathe fresh life into him. He kept imagining what he would do if he ever ran into her in the street, and when he did run into her, he just passed by, following her with a longing look of his eyes, and beating out his brains about what could have happened if he only stopped and spoke to her. Once the dinner was over, his sacred time began. He would put his hands in the pockets and head for the circus tent, making long steps. For most of the time, he didn’t know what he was doing and what was going around him but he liked that unawareness.
During the show, he always encountered Anastasia who hadn’t taken any other seat since the day she sat next to him. They smiled at each other, being suspended somewhere between friendship and indifference, making attempts to keep up appearances. He didn’t follow her after the show because he knew the Boy in Make-up was waiting for her somewhere behind the violet curtain. He tried not to think about him like he didn’t think about the past and the future, refraining even from judging himself. He lived in the present and that present had already been forgotten. He lived among a variety of colors and a wild rush of consecutive scenes, from one show to another, with the world being a star he held safely in his closed hand.
One day, Anastasia didn’t come to the circus.
He waited for a quarter or so in the hope she would be late but nothing portended her showing up. Then, he got up from his seat, left the circus tent, and returned home in order to land on his bed and just lie there. So he lay on the bed the entire night, being unable to fall asleep and unable to think due to the weight of the things he could do if only he had any influence over them.
In the morning, Adam managed to break a plate and two glasses before he even emerged from the house and started to putter around the town in search for any information about the missing girl.
“I saw her yesterday. Sometime before dark. She was heading that way.” The bricklayer waved his hand with a bored face.
“The minute I opened my shop, she was here to buy fresh buns. See for yourself, they’re very good and quite cheap as well…” The baker tried to convince him.
“Yes, I saw her but I chose not to look at her. You must know that I can’t take my eyes off my property just like that.” The old man in glasses shrugged his shoulders, seating in front of magnolia-colored house, on a porch covered by wild grapevine.
Adam asked every person he encountered the same question and after an hour of investigation he already knew that although she was a glittering jewel of the town just the other day, now she had simply vanished into thin air. Even a local writer who told so many stories about people, excluding himself from their circles, stopped writing whodunits to try his skills at love sonnets.
The boy was desperate enough to step even into the circus.
Nobody stopped him, and he easily found the way to the room with mirrors, where he had followed Anastasia a couple of days earlier. Now, there was only the Boy in Make-up in the room. He was seating in a chair, unnaturally bent over with his face hidden behind his hands.
“Oh, it’s you…” He raised his head and looked hazily in the direction where the visitor stood. “Do you still read those books of yours? You know they’re only a part of the search for the beginning or the end of the rainbow….”
“Yes, I know. But thanks to them I also know what the rainbow is,” Adam tried to smile but his face was only able to produce a forced grimace. “I need your help.” He decided not to beat about the bush.
“And that is?”
“I’m looking for Anastasia.” He cast a firm look at the Boy in Make-up who got confused unexpectedly.
“But… I don’t know anyone with such a name. I’ve never heard it before.” The clown confessed, and something in his eyes made Adam believe him.
“You used to meet with her in this room, she had light hair and…” He didn’t even try to conceal annoyance that vibrated in his voice.
“Oh, that girl…” A dreamy smile appeared on the clown’s face. “I don’t know her name. She never shared it with me.” He lowered his head to show his helplessness.
“But you do remember her?” Adam wanted to be certain.
“Of course I do. How could I not… a week ago, while I was forcing my way through the crowd to get to the tent right here, she touched my arm. “Come with me”, she said and so I did. We spent the night on a silvery stream, listening to the choirs of the frogs, staring at the flickering Moon, and inventing tall tales for each of those bright stars. Naturally, I had to stand my boss’s shouting the next day…” He smiled like everyone else who is being fueled by their memories. “But what can I do… she disappeared and I have to live my life. I’m glad I met her and that she exists… however, I don’t know if I can say that I knew her. I’m not sure if I can say that about anyone, actually.”
“Let’s find her!” These words were uttered by the visitor with such confidence that the Boy in Make-up instantly straightened up on the wobbly chair, as if he had just heard a piercing sound of an alarm gong.
He didn’t become aware of his own abilities until now so he got up and stuffed the necessary things into his backpack, without saying a single word. Without demur, he was willing to leave behind everything he had lived on in order to set out in search for the lost pictures; the only pictures he was certain to be genuine.
“Let’s go.” He said shortly with confidence, flinging the backpack around his arm.
At first, Adam was astonished with the circus boy’s habits but he began to treat them as his own over time. The ex-clown lived an adventurous life of a traveler who never put down roots, resembling an always-changing chameleon. He sparingly distributed information about his past, and they were usually contradictory. He spread some kind of a positive energy around him. He was always in a rush and too relentless to stop for a shortest while. Strangers were treated by him as if they had been his friends from the day he’d been born and he really needed very little to be happy.
Under the brightly shining sun, among the rustling trees, they were crossing vast plains, discovering rather each other’s personality than the destination of their travel. And despite the numerous differences between them, they were becoming dearer to each other with every minute.
They visited towns, met their residents, and took part in street festivals, never giving up hope that they would find Anastasia in one of those places. Still, it didn’t happen although local cafés were boiling with discussions about the mystery she spread around her. People said she was so short she needed a step to reach the door’s handle. They also said she worked at a shoemaker’s, trying to scrape a living. At last, they said she was a daughter of a powerful and wealthy duke who had died in an accident. Many perceived her as a solitary knight of the road who puttered around on her own request, and despite the fact everyone liked her, nobody wanted to learn who she really was. The lies kept accumulating and there was no way they could ever connect to form a single true story.
On the day when they set out on a return journey, they were visited by an old gardener in a tilted hat, who was blind in one eye. He told them about the fire burning at nighttime in one of the nearby caves, which kept his wife awake for the rest of the night. He said he went there and saw a beautiful girl sleeping in the cave under a blanket. Being afraid he would wake her up, he decided to get back home where he fell asleep, trying to forget what he saw.
Adam and the Boy in Make-up showed sympathy for his wife and set off into wilderness in the pointed direction. They were followed by others who owed smiles on their faces to Anastasia, although only some of them knew her name.
They found her sleeping in the cave’s darkness. She was wrapped up in a blanket only and there were single baubles and breadcrumbs lying around her.
“That’s my pendant. The one with a cicada. I got it from my grandfather. I lost it on the day she left…” The ex-clown clutched his head in disbelief.
Suddenly, the cave became filled with whispers of people who recognized their lost property. Those whispers aroused poor and innocent Anastasia from sleep. She had done it only to survive – now, she was looking around with unseeing eyes, not losing a single fraction of her phenomenal beauty. The cave welcomed the last rays of sunshine in the company of the owl’s hooting and snapping of the tree branches when Adam moved closer to Anastasia to help her get up. Yes, she was a thief but it didn’t matter since she was the incarnation of love, at the same time. Love stole something from Adam as well but he wasn’t upset about it because it was her who contained a real essence of life. Her presence painted his happiness, a moment so ephemeral and real that it was not possible it had ever been part of reality.
Early in the morning, the cock’s crowing woke him up while the wind brought a blissful scent of sage into the room. When he reached under the pillow, he found the book – he must have finished it before falling asleep because the bookmark was lying on the floor next to his bed. And so he was thinking about the flash he had noticed in the sky at night.
To be continued