Freedom

  • baltijos-kelias-e-j-morkuno-nuotr

    The Baltic Way | by E.J. Morkūnas

    Hi, – she says, her hair down, her eyes a bit puffed as if she was crying.

She told me, that recently she cries a lot. Sometimes for no evident reason. Every so often in her dreams. The other night she found herself standing in an empty sunny street, someplace that reminded her of Switzerland even though she never visited the country. She looked around. The street appeared narrow and somewhat detached, she looked one way to the endless road ahead, then to the other, where in the near distance a gigantic mountain stood. As she was about to turn and walk into the horizon, mud like dark and ponderous lava began to sputter idly and slide down the hill. She rushed into an abandoned store of traditional Portuguese tiles only seconds before the street was buried under a solid layer of wet dirt. Looking through the thin glass wall, she gasped for air. She felt as if her chest was crushed, and tears of despair ran down her luminous cheeks. A hot sun glared; she had no clue how to escape…

  • Hi, do you want to come in? – I offer and she replies in hesitation. She always hesitates, she hesitated even when I proposed. It was our fifth year anniversary and I thought it’d be romantic.  Then, she paused for a minute watching me die inside, then said/…
  • …/no, I only came to pick up the parcel.

***

She was always weird about marriage. Her father cheated on her mother with another woman. It was Christmas eve, they were eating traditional dinner, twelve dishes, no meat, only fish. The television was on. At that time they had a choice of only three channels. Flicking through them was her older sister’s favourite activity. It annoyed the hell out of their father. He would grab their old remote control with its comically long cable and throw it to the furthest corner of the room, sometimes hitting their tabby cat called Rainė, who would then squawk and hide behind thick burgundy curtains.

  • I will get that, – her mother stood up.
  • Who could that be? –  asked father dabbing at his mouth.

Behind the door stood a middle aged woman with blond hair tied into a bun, ridiculous black eyebrows, red lips and a worn-out leopard print coat. She was barely five feet tall, although she compensated for her shortness wearing polished red leather stiletto.

  • Good evening, please excuse my disturbing you at such a late hour, but I feel that you should know that I love your husband and he loves me and no one should stand between us.

Her sister and she watched the mother standing there in silence staring at the stranger for a minute or so.

  • Go away, you cunt, – she said.
  • But you don’t understand/…
  • …/go away.

The woman hesitated, then turned around to leave. The mother was about to shut the door and go back to the table, when she saw her daughters standing behind her, observing the scene. They looked at her expectantly. A closure, that would erase the memory of the visitor.

She opened the door again. The woman was still there, retouching her make up with a compact powder pad. She turned her head, looked at the mother, closed the case and was about to walk down the stairs.

  • And this is for our ruined dinner, – the mother said and kicked the stranger down the staircase.

Her father was always distant. He kept to himself: working long hours, reading or watching television until he fell asleep on the sofa. Her mother would cover him with a blanket, turn off the lights and return to their bedroom leaving her father snoring in the living room. They would rarely show affection for each other and (apart from Christmas) would only celebrate the Day of Freedom Defenders and International Women’s Day. On those days father would bring šakotis* and red cloves, they would invite a couple of old friends and sit in the kitchen remembering the 13th of January or the day they met, depending on the occasion.

Her father was a proud patriot. He was the first to arrive to The Baltic Way, a human chain that connected three Baltic Capitals in a peaceful protest against Soviet rule, wearing a white shirt and a tricolour badge. She remembers the morning he woke everyone up and made them sing the national anthem. Then the mother rushed to the kitchen to make some sandwiches with rye bread, cheese and cervelat.  She could not understand what the fuss is all about, neither did her sister. They sat at the back seat of their red moskvitch, driving towards Vilnius in silence. The mother was finishing her knitting, occasionally lifting her head to check the road, the father’s hands were clenching tightly on the wheel,  while the sister picked her nose, secretly sticking bogeys under the car seat.

It was a peculiar summer morning, drowning in the hot August sun.

  • Where are we going dad? – she asked.
  • Into freedom.

A couple of years later he almost lost a left leg for that freedom. You imbecile, – were mother’s firsts words when he returned from the hospital. Then she kissed him on the forehead and whispered: I was praying for you.

We address all those who hear us. It is possible that (the army) can break us with force or close our mouths, but no one will make us renounce freedom and independence, – the announcer said right before radio station shut down. ** She never forgot the sound of uninterrupted tone followed by radio silence. Her mother opening the China Cabinet door, lifting the lid of her ceramic jewellery box, and taking  out a red sandalwood rosary — that night she had no sleep and all the girls could hear was a silent plea.

Lithuania regained its independence, and exactly a year after the revolution everything changed. It  might have been the experience of  bloodshed, the fact that the father was so close to death or the inevitable desire for a change brought by the rebirth of a free nation that lead him to seek excitement under another woman’s skirt. He was a lousy liar, therefore when confronted by his wife, he told the truth and all the unnecessary details.

  • Is this the end? – the father asked.
  • No, – replied the mother.

***

  • But surely your father’s infidelity is not a valid reason to reject my proposal? – after a couple of hours of emotional inferno it all began to sink in.
  • Could you think of a better one? – she asked downing the glass of Monet  I bought to celebrate our engagement.
  • Well if I have to? – I replied.

Sometimes I wonder what lead me to that moment. I had everything already as well as my freedom and she did not ask for more. She was comfortable in our fuss free relationship. We gave each other time apart and meet when we both were keen on doing something together. Sometimes we would lie on the floor listening to jazz vinyls drinking Pinot Noir and smoking cigarettes. She was obsessed with this Annie Hall mode of living, analysing existential subjects, talking about art, creating drama and going to the psychoanalyst in order to add some sense to the state of her being. Really, I could have found myself someone more down to earth, someone, who would spend less time in her head and make things happen instead of overanalysing shit out of everything? Also, she had to feel things. A task that took a normal person no time to complete, would take her ages. She had her own pace, as if Her Morning Elegance was playing on the loop in the background of her life. Maybe this is what attracted me, the sense she gave, the feeling that everything’s going to be alright.

  • I love my freedom, – she continued.

She took after her father. Although I read that girls are more likely to cheat if their mothers did.

  • Was your mother a whore?
  • … aren’t we all a bit like that? – she took a cigarette out of her clutch bag, – Would you like one?
  • Thank you, – I did not hesitate.

She lit it up and we sat in silence smoking. It was mid-June, the night was young and air smelled of peonies.

By the time she finished the cigarette, I knew everything between us was over as if asking her to stay with me until death do us apart prompted her to open a new page, as if even a thought of committing to someone or to something that relatively has no ending felt genuinely wrong.

  • I’ll see you tomorrow, – she said.
  • Alright, – I sensed that she needed some space and that trying to stop her would only make things worse.

The next morning, I missed her call and had no desire to return it. I took a shower, made the best scrambled eggs, read the newspaper from front to back enjoying black coffee. I felt relieved.

***

There always was someone in my life depending on me. I remember myself at the age of five, sitting next to babushka, waiting until she’ll start to talk in her dreams. I would then pose her questions as if she was an oracle and would believe everything she said. I didn’t know that my grandmother had Alzheimer’s and was much less aware of what is happening around her. She had difficulties eating and walking without help. Eventually, she needed assistance with all her daily activities. Since mum had to work long shifts and my dad would not return for days, I was the only one to look after babushka. She died when I was ten, three days before my birthday. According to Lithuanian tradition, we had to keep her in the funeral hall and bury  her on the third day, which was my tenth birthday. While dad was throwing soil on the top of his mother’s coffin, auntie Lena decided to cheer me up with a birthday present and opened a music box she brought me from  her short trip to Vienna. It was a little paper box with Mozart’s name on it and it played Die Zauberflöte. My dad was about to throw the handful of soil at me and my new toy, but the priest caught his hand and the music stopped. A week after Grandmother’s funeral my auntie Lena and her husband Piotr moved in with us. That day dad left and never returned. My mother could no longer take this tragicomedy and attempted suicide, which left her partly handicapped. Auntie Lena and her alcoholic husband Piotr moved out as soon as my mother returned from hospital leaving me all alone again. After a few years my mother learnt to take care of herself and encouraged me to go to Vilnius, in order to receive a better education. Since we did not have a lot of money, my mother asked her school-time friend to rent me a room. She agreed with  one condition, that after school I will help her at the care home where she worked as a nurse. I was not expecting anything else.

After graduation I left the country and came to London to work as an au pair, assisting young French family around the house, and help their three daughters to do their homework. They loved me and I… Frankly, I needed a rest from it all. And so, I packed my rucksack, sent an application to the university on my way to the airport and flew to Barcelona.

It was the hottest summer. I would wake up at 6am, run a couple kilometres along the shore, dive in, dive out, catch some sun, close myself in the library, read a book, call my mother. Sometimes I would rent a motorbike and drive to the countryside, stay at a farm, help them out, get some extra cash. Time went too quick and I found myself back on the plane.

She asked me if I would hold her hand during the take off and I did. For the next five years.

***

  • Are you sure you don’t want to come in? – I double checked.
  • I’m sorry, – she said.
  • No worries, it’s a lucky coincidence I caught the postman/…
  • …/ I’m sorry I never said yes. Last night I had a dream and you were in it. We talked like nothing happened, you told me stories and I smiled. Then I came closer and kissed your head, you hugged me and it felt like homecoming.

And I hugged her, on what would have been our two year wedding anniversary.

* Lithuanian šakotis – tree cake, a Polish-Lithuanian traditional spit cake, made of butter, eggs, flour, sugar, and cream, cooked on a rotating spit in an oven or over an open fire.

** BBC

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