The box

 The sea is so tempting, mysterious, unexpected. 

Especially when the whole year you work according to a hectic schedule in an overly famous Department of Energy and meet mostly malcontent capital citizens, trying to tackle their problems with tariffs, benefits and conversion errors. To crown it all, you listen reservedly to a handful of things that don’t relate to work. Especially when you have your own problems. And not only with energy supply. However… this term perfectly defined her state at the end of the summer, when the desire to flee from people and to charge the mind with energy overwhelmed her. To find the resource from which she can sip the energy to survive one more year until the next holiday. Or until new, craved positive turn of the Fate.

Marfa randomly pointed at the map of Ukrainian coastal zone around Odessa, found a tiny town and tiny hotel in it, phoned and booked the room. Hoping that ten days of silence and relative seclusion in unknown coastal town would be enough. How to spend the rest of the holiday she would decide later. She got there by bus, which passed by the town.

Walking down the road from the bus stop to the hotel, Marfa realized that her handbag and the suitcase were heavy enough. Having stopped to catch her breath, she poured the water from one and a half litre bottle out on the cracked clay ground around the rose bush – the bag lighten a bit.

Her room was nice, small, decorated in the seaside style – with taste. The hotel staff wasn’t talkative and it completely satisfied the girl. Her therapy consisted of silence and meditative observing of environmental beauties: sea, clouds, sunrises, flowers, crabs, jellyfishes on the shore, red shell rocks alongside the wild beach and… pebbles.

Intuitive treatment was moving forward well. None of the new acquaintances, hogwash neither with the neighbours in the hotel nor with the neighbours on the beach. Early waking up, strolling on the wet sand near the waves, collecting of the shells and… pebbles. Amazing red flat spongy pebbles.

Perhaps, people who had grown up in the coastal towns don’t spot these exotics. But the person, exhausted with the hectic pace of bustling capital, whose inner flame of a romantic child world perception still trembled, all these were touching, sometimes exhilarating, stirring the desire to fill grey weekdays with these.

Marfa, day after day, strolling along the wild beach, where, luckily, were so few people, automatically searched under feet nice shells and in the same manner threw them into the beach bag adding sometimes pebbles in it. Among pebbles, one time even a “chicken God” happened –  the pebble with a hole, which can make your dreams come true. But the remains of shell rocks were the warmest to the heart. Her favourite terracotta and quaint prints of ancient turtles tickled her fantasy.

Every evening in her hotel room exposition of trophies replenished on the bedside table, which she wanted to take with her to her humble Kyiv apartment – trophies with the smell of sea and summer.

What will she do with them, Marfa hadn’t a clue, but she wasn’t ready to leave them. It was true that the task became more complicated because the trophies were too heavy to carry them across Ukraine in the handbag or in the trunk by who-knows transport. The girl started thinking about sending them by post to Kyiv. Of course, almost on the last day. Good idea. But a proper box was needed.

Two days before she left, she sorted through her pebbles and throw away those ones which she didn’t regret to farewell. Anyway, at least two kilos of seaside beauty left. If not more.

In the afternoon, on the last day of her “restart”, the weather got spoiled in the town. The clouds came from the sea, it started drizzling and soon it started bucketing with rain. Marfa scooped up the blanket and rushed from the wild beach to the central beach, planning to climb up to the town from it. But it was thundering and lightening so frightening, that the girl didn’t reach the hotel and jumped into a cafe in two blocks from it. Took out the towel from the bag, wiped the face, hair and shoulders, caught the breath and decided to wait for the shower to stop here, over a cup of coffee. Thunderstorm cloud was moving quickly, opening the line of clear sky.

Marfa ordered coffee and croissant and sat in the corner, gazing at the storm.

In the cafe there were few people – at one table the group of two girls and two boys were giggling. At another table, a man sat with a cup of coffee in front of him, drinking cognac instead of coffee, talking on the phone simultaneously. Basically, he listened more with a tensed expression on the face. There was a post carton box on the chair next to him, which Marfa couldn’t spot because the thought about the sending of trophies swirled around her mind.

Incidentally, the girl overheard the shreds of his conversation with a woman, without a doubt, which wasn’t lyric at all, but emotionally tensed. After all, the man gulped the cognac, leaving unfinished coffee on the table and rushed to the exit. Hesitated for a second, returned, took the box and determinately left the cafe.

Marfa, sipping the coffee, was watching at the window how he came out, glanced at the sky – the cloud was moving over the town and washed dusk sun was shining over the sea. The man came down and strode on the path alongside dense green bushes.

Marfa looked away and suddenly spotted with the corner of her eye sharp movement – he threw the box into the bushes.

“Here you are!”, she murmured.

In ten minutes the girl followed the man. Having looked around, she took the bandbox out of the bushes. It was closed and slightly wet. Marfa threw it into the beach bag and went to the hotel.

There she hung up to dry a towel, blanket, a swimsuit, took a shower, dried hair. The girl noticed the pebbles on the bedside table, which covered the whole surface, sometimes in two rows.

“The box!”, she snickered and pulled unexpected catch out of the bag.

To her surprise, the girl suddenly felt that the light box wasn’t empty – the sharp noise was gut-wrenching. Marfa carefully opened the box from two sides, then the front part and froze on the spot. On the cotton cloud-like featherbed, surrounded with faded flowers and sunflower seeds, the furred red body of a dead hamster was lying.

It’s unknown forces that made the girl hold this improvised coffin. Maybe, the memory of several similar hamsters from her own childhood put on hold logical hysterical reaction of a girl on such a thunderclap.

“What an asshole!”, sighed Marfa. “What do I have to do with you, poor thing?! Maybe I have to bury you with dignity as it has been planned by a kind heart. Perhaps, a girl. Without a doubt. But why the last stage was handed to this guy? Ugh!”

A young person with the sporty appearance with a beach bag on her shoulder and a stick in the hand was heading from the city, which gradually was diving into dusk, to the sea. For the first time, she fixed not on the sea distance, but looked around her, searching the place where hard cracked from the heat land becomes softer on the border with the beach zone. Of course, the girl didn’t have a shovel as well as a mourning court, which would cry the animal off to its final journey. She was doubtful about throwing the box into the garbage bin. She felt a certain responsibility for the unknown girl, who delegated her father or older brother the burial of the animal.

There were some people on the beach. Someone was attracted by swimming in the moonbeams (in the full moon), someone continued “conversation” over the booze and snacks under beach umbrellas, someone forced children from the beach. So, digging there near the fence with her newfound mission would be somehow unappropriated.

Within a hundred metre from her over a barrier a campsite of “wild” tourists was set – cars, trailers, tents, mangals, boilers, smokes, savoury dinner smells attracted organized tourists.

Marfa walked along the camping fence, far away from the beach lights. She found a particular spot for the ritual near the bushes. She took the box out of the bag, put it on the ground, leaned and started digging the ground with a stick. The soil was not so tough as in the hot town, but still rocky and not very pliable. The girl was digging fiercely, sniffling and wheezing, focused on her business.

“What the fudge?”, man’s voice thundered over her head out of the blue and a bright ray of flashlight blinded her.

“Gosh!”, Marfa sprinted on her feet, clinging the stick in her hand.

When the ray of a flashlight slid aside, the girl, to her amazement saw a man from the cafe in the camouflage uniform.

“What am I doing?”, Marfa put her hands on the hips. “Burring your hamster with dignity! Don’t you want to help?”

The ray of flashlight slid around and stopped on the familiar box.

“Goshaa!”, surprised camping guard exhaled and looked suspiciously at Marfa.

When tearful conventions were finished, the man offered a tour around the campsite and even tasting of sashlyk, which his friend was grilling. Refusals weren’t accepted. Now they were connected with the mutual mystery, night ritual under the watchful eye of the full moon. She agreed.

While walking, he excused and told his story in two words – divorced with a wife, relationship sucked, but he’s on speaking terms with a daughter, helps as much as he can. Last year he wanted to give her a kitten as a present for birthday, but the wife rejected flatly his idea and bought a hamster – not so hassled. He gave up. He was not to fix his status in the home where he no longer lives. But today the daughter phoned and through teras reported on the death of the hamster, but she had high temperature because of a sunstroke and her mum was at work. He dropped in, took that box and promised to bury the hamster. Carried him under the armpit to the campsite, thinking that the hamster, actually, didn’t care where to rest: in the garbage bin or in the ground. Kicking seductive thoughts away until the wife called and clashed with him out of nothing. Then once more. And it wasn’t about the hamster, more about old female offences, well-mixed with manipulation. He lost his temper and flew into the cafe. Yes, drank a bit. The third call from the ex made him completely mad – he decided not to bother with burials. Yes-yes. Ashamed, promised, after all.

“Where did you take that box?! Why did you pick it up?!”, he stopped and stared at the girl.

“Weeell… I just needed the box. Ha-ha… I’m going home tomorrow. I collected the pebbles… Decided to send them by post. And here the boxes flew into the bushes.”

They laughed.

“Agree, the story is dopey”, Marfa continued. “It had had a different ending if I wouldn’t have picked it up in the bushes or replaced the hamster with pebbles or…”

“Or if I would have been a better father and a more patient ex and fixed everything… By the way, do you go to Kyiv?”

“Yes.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“How do you go there?”

“Have no idea yet. First by bus to Odesa, then I’ll roll the dice.”

“I have an offer for you, then. Don’t refuse. We are merely relatives now.”

“What else came to your mind?”

“I go to Kyiv tomorrow as well, my mum has birthday. I’m from Kyiv, actually. Started living in the coastal town and you see how it turned out… Now I look for a job here each summer to see my daughter. Live here, at the campsite, the owner is my friend, keeps me the place.”

“Interesting.”

“So, do you agree to be my company?”

“Hmmm… Well, yes. Interesting turn of events. Only under one condition – I won’t amuse you with chatting on the road. Actually, I came here to keep silent, I have a hogwash at work so that I have an allergy to it. Won’t get offended?”

“Well, no. I don’t like to bloviate too. By the way – I’m Vlad. What is your name?”

“Marfa.”

“Khm…”,  the man sniffed and rubbed the nose with his fist.

“What’s wrong?” the girl was used to different reactions on her abnormal name. “Parents named me after my grandma.”

“Wonderful name, true. Khm… But there’s one “but”. It was the name of our hamster. I mean it was a girl hamster!”, Vlad was nearly to burst out laughing.

“Hey! Perhaps it’s a sign?”, told Marfa, hiding amazement.

“Which one?”

“Memento mori. The life is short. And old Marfa passed away. The page is turnedFrom now and on the life of new Marfa.”

Mila Ivantsova

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