The windows that face south

Zhenia married young by modern standards – at the age of 20. Though, her mother said that in her youth the age of 20-22 had been the right time to start family life. Now, most young girls are not eager to marry at that age without an urgent need. There was no such a need for Zhenia, it was a matter of her personal choice and she had her reason. She hardly admitted to taking those actions to herself, and as far as others were concerned, they had nothing to do with that at all.

When Maxim proposed to her, she said “yes” because… of windows facing south. Your reaction might be: “What? The windows facing south? You must be joking!!!!” And you will be right in a way. But….

The girl had grown up in the centre of Kyiv. It sounds quite good and exciting, doesn’t it? It certainly does! But Zhenia had been living in a tiny basement room with one window, out of which she could only see the feet of people hurrying along their old building, minding their own business and no more. It was so boring!!!!! As a matter of fact, her mum worked as a street sweeper. “Oh!” you can say regretfully. But it hadn’t been the dream of her youth. She was neither an alcoholic nor a mediocrity, it just so had happened… The mum had endured hardships to better herself and her only daughter and struggled to make ends meet in that very Kyiv since she arrived in the city.

Kateryna was a kind of a woman who failed to develop a close relationship both with her ex-husband (Zhenia’s father) and other men. She had just gritted her teeth and tried to make a living in the capital so that she could get that independent flat. She had spent half of her life working hard for it – taking cans of garbage out, sweeping out the yard, clearing it of snow in winter, washing the high marble steps of the staircase in an old house built in distant tsarist times. And the residents never complained about anything, they even felt sorry for Katia, giving her daughter Zhenia some sweets or their children’s used clothes. The mum thanked everyone and was glad not to spend money on her daughter’s coat or new pair of boots. But Zhenia hated those givers and their children and every time she met them she experienced a feeling of tension expecting somebody to say the following: “Oh, this coat of mine suits you perfectly” but anybody had never pronounced that. Nobody cared at all. The city life was very fast and if everything was OK with doing the cleaning, nobody had a street sweeper and her daughter in mind. They had been living their life in that basement flat close to the Golden Gates for many years.

After finishing middle school Zhenia went to college and got a diploma in accounting. Her mum considered that skill a very demanding job at all times; she thought if you had any brains, you could earn good money too.

Zhenia did have good brains as well as a strong desire to change her life drastically. But there was an activity far more enjoyable for her to do than accounting. It was as if she had carried farmer’s genes or a magic spell had touched her, but she couldn’t pass by any plants – every tree, bush, flower in a flowerbed or in the box on the balcony, a basket hanging from a lamp-post on Hreshchatyk street or a simple flowerpot on somebody’s window sill drew her attention and generated increasing excitement.

Maybe she took after her father whom she had never seen and known anything about except he was a bastard. Or some her ancestors might have been planting breeders or agronomists, or she might have been a person fallen under the spell of growing wonderful flowers or designing parks and gardens in her past lives (as some books or films say).

She was pretty excited to watch a film about the Versailles on TV. She had studied for hours the collection of flower paintings by Katheryna Bilokur on the exhibition at the Arts Gallery. She used to grow various plants but failed because of the total lack of light in the basement. Only plastic flowers could survive on the window sills but the girl hated them considering dead.

After college, she was working as an accountant at a small company when she met Maxym, the director’s driver. Their whirlwind romance started, though she hadn’t thought of marriage until once Maxym invited her to his flat after going to the cinema. He had a one-room flat in an apartment block of a new residential area. The flat was on the eighteenth floor with windows facing south…

When they got up in the morning, the sun’s rays hadn’t reached the side of the flat yet and translucent curtains were drawn, but there was so much light in the room that the girl felt full joy and happiness.

When Znenia entered the kitchen, she saw a white pot with blooming orchids on a white window sill. She also noticed a balcony as empty as a blank sheet of paper which gave her space for creativity. And that pushed her to change the future plans hastily. She would like to live there with those windows, that balcony and let it be with that man. He suited perfectly her book, together with all the stuff mentioned above.

And soon it happened. Maxym was eight years older than her and was ready to tie the not, moreover, he liked the girl, so they decided to marry at the beginning of autumn.

The mum gave the blessing to Zhenia.

“Marry him, seize your chance. Though it happened so fast…. But we’ll see later…At least you should get married once for general development. I didn’t manage, so give a try!”

Zhenia moved to Maxym’s place at the White House, as she called his block of flats. The tall white building really gleamed among the greenery in the street. Everything was cast in a pale-pastel light – the tiles of the entrance hall, the doors and walls, even the lift carriage was light-grey inside not to mention an abundance of bright light in Maxym’s flat.

Zhenia was running around trying to do her best to bring positive changes in her own way. Sometimes her husband liked them. But he was mostly sceptical and critical about their efficiency and soon began to look strained because some new “inhabitants” appeared not only to “visit” but also to share their flat with them. A young wife couldn’t but buy new green plants which, according to her words “asked her for taking” or simply “smiled cheerfully at her”.

Her colleagues presented her with potted plants and flowers instead of impressive bouquets to mark special occasions because she asked them about it after her wedding; sometimes she took a stalk or a leaf and dipped them into the water to develop, sometimes she stole them, it’s a universal truth that stolen stalks grow much better.

First, Maxym smiled at her hobby and called his young wife a plant lover, then he got annoyed at noticing his own space become narrow and his flat begin to look like an affiliation of the botanical garden or flower department in a big supermarket where he and Zhenia often went to buy some fertilizers for flowers, soil or new pots….

She was young and pretty, attractive and active, well-built and intelligent, moreover, she was an excellent cook, a good housekeeper and such a sweetie in bed. What else could a young fellow dream about?

And he didn’t want and wish anymore. He wanted less. Less than that botanical madness. He used to mutter to himself and waited in horror for the spring to come. For only the balcony had largely been left untouched by the changes, it was winter time.

Zhenia, very excited about her life in the streams of light, carefully treated her household duties and first didn’t notice her husband’s growing dissatisfaction. As a matter of fact, she didn’t take him seriously inspired by her new implementations. She could easily live without him and deep in her heart, she realized that Maxym was not the apple of her eye. Time passed and the first cracks were beginning to appear in their relationship. She got up in the morning when her husband was still sleeping and went to open the curtains. But before doing that, she had hidden behind them mesmerized and watched every plant closely at as if welcoming them.

“If only you could love me like this! And look what we have! The window sills are a complete mess!”

He got up grunting something, sighed heavily and went to the bathroom to brush his teeth.

It’s no wonder their marriage broke down. Maxym felt like a stranger in his own home, got nervous and rude. At first, his reaction surprised her but then she started to growl at him, resisted such pressures, sometimes beat around the bush. A slow acting bomb had been launched and it went off in one spring evening when the husband threw out just prepared boxes with soil for new plants out of the window and then ordered to get rid of the stuff that clogged both window sills and not only them.

“I married you, not the botanical garden. And if you can’t live without this, you should have warned me about your addiction problems! You might be cured of it!”

“And might you be cured instead? Such a heart of stone you’ve got! You can’t love them, they are so beautiful!”, Zhenia burst out crying, looking the situation over and finding out if her tears could possibly melt the ice in her husband’s eyes.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Instead, she had provoked Maxym’s furious reaction, he said that the flat wasn’t his but rented from his acquaintances while they were working abroad, and he didn’t want to tell her the truth. But at that moment he felt she wouldn’t catch it otherwise.

“Re-n-ted?!”, Zhenia whispered and her small universe exploded into thousands of small pieces.

Zhenia returned to her mum’s flat. Before leaving she presented a florist next to Maxym’s house with all her plants. She had made friends with her since their marriage. The shop assistant listened to her story with pity, wiping away the tears and telling Zhenia about her own troubles. Zhenia had to go up five times to Maxym’s flat to bring out all the pots with plants. She also gave a concierge one pot of flowers as a farewell present not only did she like her very much, but only because Maxym could see that pot every day and could be reminded of her staying!

The shop assistant turned out to be a very decent one and jotted her telephone number down. Soon she transferred a good sum of money to Zhenia’s bank account for selling those flowers. The money was quite sufficient to cover some basic needs because she had to leave the job at the company because of Maxym.

Zhenia was suffering a deep depression staying at home in a tiny flat she had hated from her childhood, with something like a parody of a window where you could see somebody’s feet flashing past instead of sunlight.

The mother felt sorry for the daughter, though astonished by the far-reaching consequences of her hobby throughout Zhenia’s short married life.

She tried to comfort her by telling her that everything would be all right.

“He mustn’t have definitely been your man! If it is your destiny, you will be saved by God’s grace and find a man to your liking. We will survive!”

The spring was in full bloom in the city streets and Zhenia decided to leave her basement flat and go for a walk. She passed by the Golden Gates, calmed herself down, and watched people, flowers, new leaves in the trees, and greedily caught the sun’s rays on her hollow-cheeked face. Zhenia approached the metro, then without noticing it she reached the station and took a free bus to the familiar gigantic supermarket where her favourite department of garden and pot plants was located.

She had been wandering aimlessly around that department for a long time feeling at home among the best friends. She touched the leaves of different plants; even chatted with them as if they were her old acquaintances. She noticed that one of the pot plants had over dried soil and informed the consultant of that department that it should be watered as soon as possible.

A tall slim young man got embarrassed, apologized and politely said that he would definitely improve the situation. They started a conversation about plants. Zhenia felt really alive again, her eyes lit up with pleasure, she hadn’t had such a company for a long time. Soon the girl looked with close attention to the young man and saw he was also handsome. She thought she would have much more in common with him than with that self-centred Maxym who wasn’t interested in anything except watching TV and eating tasty food. She straightened up, tossed her head back and ruffled her hair, she laughed at his jokes radiating femininity and thoroughly enjoying communication.

Then the smart consultant was called over by other customers; he excused himself and went to help them. Zhenia relaxed and breathed deeply, smiled and suddenly felt somebody look at her. She turned slowly around and saw a well-built security guard who was on duty and smiled at her. She thought to herself, “The things are sometimes so unpredictable!”. She was flattered by all the attention two men were giving her after depression and howl of despair!

The security guard approached her with a smile.

“You liked our new consultant, didn’t you?”

“Sure thing, I did. He is well qualified for his job. And, please, mind your own business”, the girl answered proudly.

“It’s surely none of my business if only he interests you as a consultant”, the man replied with a strange smile.

“Pardon me?”, Zhenia was confused.

“Well, he would be interested to know you only as a plant lover…”

It made the girl blushed. She took it with a grain of salt and turned her gaze towards the young man.

“Oh, my God, what all the fuss was about!”, she chuckled to herself.

“And my interest in you is much more sincere”, the guard went on.

“Would you like to know if I have taken some cacti with me? So I can shake my bag out!”, the girl answered trying to avoid any ambiguity.

“Oh, no, I am sorry. You misunderstood me. Can you give me your phone number in case we throw away some defective exotic plants? I can inform you about it.”

The security guard sounded serious but she noticed the man was making eyes at her. She doubted if it would make any difference but the suggestion about those plants was so tempting.

“As a matter of fact, I am looking for a job”, Zhenia suddenly pronounced. “I may take the position in an accounting department and I won’t need any protection!”

Her answer surprised him.

“A job? Then come with me to the third floor, I’ll show you the way.”

And they really had the vacancy but not in the department of plants (she would do it!), but in the accountant department. Let it all hang out! She needed the winds of changes! She should certainly learn something about her future work, but at least she could go to the beautiful plants during her lunch break and after work. Moreover, they could sometimes make an offer to take defective goods.

When everything had settled, Zhenia was led to a big room where five women were sitting in front of computers. The sun was shining brightly in the window without a window sill.

“Yes, unfortunately, the windows of that part of the building face south, but don’t worry, we have an air conditioner and nobody complains about the heat”, the lady from HR department said.

But Zhenia didn’t hear her. She was using her imagination to fill in the detail: hang all kinds of nice shelves, put various pots of exotic beautiful flowers on them and below the window. She couldn’t help living without them!


Mila Ivantsova

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