Vira had been afraid of frogs since her childhood. Every time she saw them, she got into a panic. It was on that last day of her mum’s summer vacation when village boys threw a big toad at Vira. It hit her over the chest with its head and then fell under Vira’s feet, frightened as much as the little one in short pants.
The girl yelled at the top of her voice and rushed out into the yard in search of her mum, still feeling the creature’s wet and cold touch on her chest. The mum did her best to calm her daughter down but unfortunately, that violent incident had serious consequences for the girl. It had given her such a fright that the family reaped its results every night when they got back to the city. A smart and obedient girl usually went to bed; first, her mum read her a fairy tale or told her a story, then kissed her goodnight, covered with a blanket, switched off the lights leaving only a small nightlight and went to do some household chores. After the frog episode, the girl had been sleeping peacefully till the midnight. At exactly that time her parents were awakened by a daughter’s scream of terror – she jumped out of bed, sobbed, burst out and tried to break for the door when parents wanted to take her hand. But mum and dad managed to comfort their heartbroken daughter kissing and stroking her tenderly. When being asked what she had been dreaming about the daughter couldn’t remember anything. And in a moment she was in the land of Nod again and had been sleeping till morning.
Those ordeals used to take place every night. The parents used to stay sleepless waiting for another regular panic attack to happen. In the end, mum decided to take Virunia (Virunia – diminutive form of the name Vira, translator’s note) to a child neurologist at the local clinic. At least something must have been done away with all that.
First, a middle-aged doctor was listening carefully, while mum was telling her a story, then she examined the girl thoroughly and after that, she glanced at a nurse and asked her to bring someone’s medical history from the receptionist. When the nurse left the study, the doctor started to write hastily something in Vira’s medical records and suddenly said, without looking at the woman.
“You should go to a local healer known as a “witch-granny”, mummy.”
“Where to?”, a young soviet mum, a convinced atheist and Komsomol member (Komsomol – youth organization promoting communist views in the former Soviet Union, translator’s note), asked surprisingly.
“To the “witch-granny”. The woman who breaks the spell and helps to conquer the fear”, repeated a grey-haired doctor with the same intonation without looking at the mum.
“And where… Where can I find her? Will you prescribe some pills or soothing drops? That calm down…”
“Sure thing… I will”, a wise doctor replied and went on jotting something down in her incomprehensible handwriting.
On her way home a young mother bought some soothing herbal tea at the pharmacy and a box of delicious cakes at the confectionery that was located next to the clinics. She tried to comfort her daughter and distract her from terrible dreams. She decided not to tell her husband about a strange neurologist’s suggestion. He would point out that she shouldn’t believe funny superstitions about those “witches-grannies”, moreover, living in the capital city.
In the evening Virunia really enjoyed eating sweet cakes and drinking soothing herbal tea, but that very night didn’t differ from the previous ones, torn by a hysterical subconscious cry of the child.
The following day a young woman shared her problem and unusual doctor’s advice with one of the mummies in the playground. The lady, hiding her eyes in the same way as the doctor had done, said quietly that they had had the similar situation and she had an address and a phone number of the “witch-granny” who lived in their residential area.
The mum called that woman and they agreed to meet the following morning. She was asked to come with Virunia and to bring a three-liter jar of water with her.
They came into an ordinary flat of a multi-storey building in their district. There were five stools in the corridor where visitors were sitting and waiting in a queue. They also opened the door to the newcomers. A group of four at a time was allowed to enter the room. When their turn came Virunia with her mum passed through the door into a typical living room and settled themselves on an old though comfortable sofa next to other patients.
An elderly woman of approximately the same age as Vira’s own granny was sitting on a chair in front of them. The mum was looking around and came to the conclusion that the woman looked like neither a fairytale wicked old witch nor a fortune-teller.
The “witch granny” conducted a short survey on each person’s problem as if it had been a regular public meeting. The people just in a sentence explained their situation or misfortune to her. The woman looked at the patient very carefully and then glanced at the other one.
“She is crying at night. She was frightened of a frog”, Vira’s mother gave a short answer and hugged her daughter who was sitting on her laps.
“How long has she been crying?”, “the witch-granny” asked.
“Almost for two months.”
“What a heart of stone you’ve got!”, the elderly woman replied, sighed and looked at the person next in a line.
Then everyone put a three-liter jar of water in front of them, having removed the cover, and the woman started to mutter to herself, probably reading prayers. She sometimes yawned, crossed herself but never stopped mumbling. The young mother looked at her neighbours and saw that they were sitting slightly drowsy, but luckily she wasn’t influenced by that process and couldn’t resist a sidelong glance at the room. There was usual furniture, a fitted wall unit of some foreign origin – a number of closets rising almost to the ceiling, crystal salad bowls and a set of glasses in the cupboard, someone’s pictures and small icons next to them, a carpet made of synthetic fibers decorated the wall along with the rug rolled up till the middle of the room, marking the owner’s territory. The visitors stayed in the room without removing their shoes.
The “witch-granny” yawned again, little Virochka gave a yawn in return and stretched her body. The mum told her off for behaving like that and they both remained quite motionless again.
After the procedure the “witch-granny” ordered everyone to follow similar instructions – drink a half cup of that water on an empty stomach and when it finishes, call her, make an appointment and visit her again. The visitors thanked the woman and left an agreed sum of money on the coffee table.
And surprisingly it worked out perfectly for Virochka, for the first time of her troublesome nights! That would probably seem strange to the mum and dad to whom she had to tell the truth about secretly taken actions in the evening. They put Virunia to bed but didn’t go to bed themselves out of force of habit waiting for an awful moment to come. But the child was sleeping peacefully at midnight, through one and two o’clock in the morning. Then the parents, feeling a bit wary about an unusual happening and looking at the clock, decided to have a sleep. Still, at night they stayed alert to the possibility of their daughter’s awakening. Nothing wrong happened – the girl rested silently and peacefully in her cradle.
“Thank God!”, the young sleepy mother-atheist murmured to herself.
“It sounds funny enough that after visiting some manipulative scumbag you thank God for that!”, a young dad grumbled to his wife. “That’s absolute nonsense! But if it helps, it’s OK and we should appreciate it.”
And for the first time for two months, they drifted off to a good night’s sleep, hugging each other.
Many years had passed since then and grown-up Virochka vaguely remembered that meeting with the “witch-granny”, except for a few random images from her mother’s stories. The country of mass atheists had already gone down into history, on the contrary, a lot of people started to believe in similar kinds of things and to join the community of Christians, Buddhists, Muslims or other unknown religious beliefs. The society officially recognized alternative medicine and paranormal healers’ abilities.
Vira became an adult, got a diploma of a dress designer, married young, was divorced, set up her own fashion studio, and gained recognition in her field – everything changed. But frogs remained frogs. Even in her adulthood, Vira tried not to encounter those small animals while seeing them in the souvenir shop she quickly passed by without noticing any frog statuettes.
But any prayers or spells can’t remove a certain species of animals from the planet Earth simply because a pretty woman of a creative profession has a sickening dislike of these poor creatures. And she sometimes happened to see the frogs near the river or in the forest. She shivered with fear only casting a glance at cute young frogs and did her best to stay out of harm’s way.
Once she was invited to dinner in a romantic restaurant by an art manager of an interesting project which they were going to discuss.
Vira was aware that the dinner may have a certain development of their personal relationships because they had already done business with Ihor for a long time. And why not? They were both singles, as they say in the process of looking for a partner to live with, though they didn’t show that side of their lives. So those business relationships looked like a huge possibility for prospective personal contacts. That’s why the dinner might be a chance to become a turning point of their future status.
The terrace of a country restaurant had been built over the lake, the evening freshness and aroma of the forest created pleasant surroundings after the heat of the capital, a light sound of small waves calmed down, and the menu included a wide selection of delicious food. Ihor chose from the dishes to his liking as they had agreed on before. The wine made them relaxed and open to more personal conversation than a business one.
The game of meaningful glances was closely intertwined with a play on words, the darker it was getting in the street, the brighter wildly dancing flames illuminated them…
“Such strange birds!”, Vira said looking around. “It’s evening already but they are singing anyway!
“Birds? Are you serious about it?!”, Ihor grunted.
“Yes, do you catch their trills? They may have the mating season. I am definitely a child of asphalt and can hardly distinguish between a crow and a pigeon that are next to the garbage cans. Oh! I also know how a blue tit and a bullfinch look like. And I saw wild birds only on TV”, Vira laughed.
“Oh, come on, I’ll show you those birds, they will sing all night long!”, Ihor smiled mysteriously, held out his arm to help Vira to her feet and to the railings of the terrace.
A young woman, slightly swaying on high heels, approached the railings, lounged against them tossing back her head and trying to see those rare birds at the top of the trees. But it seemed as if their voices had been reflected in the mirror surface of the lake and sounded as if they had been coming from below.
“Look! Your birds are over there!”, Ihor pointed to some bulrushes.
Vira looked at him with distrust and followed his index finger direction. She was sharpening the focus when suddenly her shoulders lifted off almost to her ears, the young woman shuddered with cold clasping her hands behind her chest…
Below, on the edge of the water lit by restaurant lanterns there were dozens of fat frogs who vibrated, infused the cheeks with round bubbles and released long trills-melodies into the evening world, evidently calling for the opposite sex to love, multiply, and give birth to a sort of similar monsters…
“Oh, my God…”, the young woman moaned. “I’m going to faint…”
“Viro, what’s wrong with you? You’re such a child! Look, they are so sweet. Singing, without having any complexes about their looks, self-sufficient creatures. A bit fat, smooth, greenish…”
“Stop it!”, Vira walked away from the railings quickly. “Shut up!”
“Come on! You aren’t serious, are you?!”, Ihor tried to hug her.
“Run away! Run away! Run away from this place!”, Vira muttered to herself fighting off his hands.
“Wow, how tender we are! And what about eating eagerly that fricassee made of frogs’ legs and mushrooms accompanied by wine, it was good, wasn’t it?”, Ihor made his fatal mistake.
After those words, Vita stopped resisting his pressure, froze, straightened up like a string, focused on her partner’s face for a moment trying to find out the truth in his words, hiccupped and jerked back to the railings.
The relations didn’t get a logical development even after suitor’s apologies and his offer to stay the night in a hotel room that had been booked in advance.
Furthermore, a joint art project was also quickly wrapped up without being born. When they participated in the same designer activities like Fashion weeks, Vira nodded to him from afar and tried to avoid any possibilities for communication. Soon Ihor comforted himself with a young fashion model, and Vira never trusted anyone to choose from a wide selection of dishes for her outings.
Some time had passed and once hearing a call of destiny Vira went to France to one of the biggest fairs of fabrics and accessories for seamstresses and sewing. Almost all world leading countries were represented in a huge pavilion where visitors could go, see and buy whatever they wanted from morning till night during a week. Vira had been dreaming about such a feast of fashion and possibilities for so long! She could attend all kinds of shows, workshops, meetings, lectures and other useful means of communication with her colleagues and partners.
Vira could easily speak English there, she had a young partner who had come in the fashion industry from the world of translators, knew three foreign languages and was an indispensable helper for her at this event.
Despite their ten year difference in age, the relations between Vira and Stanislava could be described as warm and partner-sisterly; the young lady had taste and business grip and her father helped his only daughter’s first designer attempts financially quite well. So, the cooperation was mutually useful, pleasant and fruitful.
Vira had opened the doors for her career in the fashion world and Stanislava in her turn breathed new life into coming collections of already a famous fashion designer. That’s why they flew to Paris together.
When they had arrived at the fair venue, Vira understood that she could use her English with a lot of participants of the event but the French, the citizens of the host country. It was strange enough for they wanted to communicate in their own tongue with the entire world. But at least there were few minor exceptions to this rule. Jean-Luc was an example of hospitality. He represented a small but a renowned factory among professionals that created exquisite accessories not for mass production but for «haute couture» so that they would suit individual needs of rich clients. He spoke good English though his French «R» added a local charm to a foreign language. Vera liked it very much.
In the evening when a noisy fair anthill calmed down, Stanislava rushed to meet her former group mates who had come to study in the Sorbonne and dropped anchor on the Seine. Vira and Jean-Luke who wasn’t a Parisian but knew the capital more or less well were roaming the streets unachievable by tourists. They had dinner at small cosy restaurants. “No frogs, please!”, was Vira’s requirement. Jean-Luc didn’t insist.
The man told her that he used to come here from the provinces on his holidays, first with his parents, then with a «girlfriend» who had broken his heart and had married a rich Swiss, and at last he went on business trips to those professional fairs.
He expressed great interest in Ukraine, she told him about her native land using English as well as she could… He pointed out that Ukrainian girls are pretty beautiful. She laughed and inquired how he had learned about that if he had never been to the country. He promised to come.
Yes, Jean-Luc had promised and he came. In the brightest month of May when the views of the city over the Dnipro were absolutely breathtaking, when spring curious sparrows sounded so alive and so excited, when the lilac bloom made you feel dizzy and thousands of foamy white pyramids of chestnut blossom enchanted you with pleasant odour, when pleasure boats and cable car trailers rocked you gently to and fro, and when you could enjoy and express surprise and delight at seeing local craftsmen’s works of art on Andriyvsky descent.
And the number of beauties per a square meter on Kyiv streets surpassed all his expectations.
“How are your men able to live with this? It seems to me that they take it for granted and even don’t notice this phenomenon”, Jean-Luc was sincerely astonished.
“Out of ten ladies that were sitting in front of me in the metro wagon, nine were beauties and one was simply attractive. Such a scary country – Ukraine!”
They had been wandering the city streets for a long time; she showed him the most famous world sights as well as her favourite spots where you could rarely meet tourists. Stanislava sometimes accompanied them acting as an interpreter. Once they were having dinner together in a cosy small restaurant, talking about various matters, making plans for the next business trip of Ukrainian designers to Paris to take part in the fair, discussing the possibility of demonstrating their fashions. Stanislava translated fast and a romantic couple was sitting relaxed avoiding speaking a foreign language. The girl was glad to contribute to those relations, she liked them both, and it seemed to her that they could hope for a bright future. Why not?
When the waiter brought the bill, Jean-Luke took out a wallet, pulled out a credit card to pay and then gave his business card to Stanislava. She looked at a finely typed text and froze for a moment.
Mr Crapaud (from French «le crapaud» – toad – author’s note) Jean–Luc
Аccessoires exclusifs pour la haute couture (from French “Mr Crapaud Jean-Luc. Accessories for la haute couture”, author’s note)
She glanced at a Frenchman who was paying off for dinner at that very moment. Then she took a look at her business partner as if she were weighing something…
“To say or not to say?”, she thought to herself. “That’s a good question. Well, it’s better to keep silence. Let them decide for themselves. Mister Crapaud… Madam Crapaud… It sounds pretty good to our ear. It’s hard to guess what the point is about. The main thing: they are head over heels in love with each other!”