Wonder-Girl, by Alexander Chernyakov
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Wonder-Girl

07.12.2011

Wonder-girl. Artist: Elena El

“Meet me at the entrance in 15 minutes!” – I’ve received a text from Wonder-Girl.

Frankly, I didn’t expect this. I've known her less than a day; just two days ago I was not even aware of her existence. We had no occasion to run into each other at work and then suddenly we met, got acquainted, and got swept away in conversation. This day I came into her office to fix some network problems. Even though I recalled some interesting film-plots, which also began with the arrival of a plumber, I had no idea how this would turn out for us.

Let me tell you about HER. She was born here in Canada, and was twenty three years old when we met. I was eleven years older than her. It was simply impossible to ignore her- a tall, slender blonde with flowing tresses that fell below her shoulders. And most important, she had a look ... yes, a look, something between a child's purity and some evident yet inscrutable lunacy. It delighted and fascinated me at the same time.

After a few phrases of my far from perfect English, she clearly realized that Alex was a man of the Russian soil, and her eyes lit up even brighter because of this. She sat down next to me while I was working, and started an urbane conversation. I learned that her grandma and grandpa were also Russian, but she didn’t speak or understand Russian. And she said she loved books. Her favorite writers were Chekhov, Dostoevsky, but her favorite was Bulgakov. Her favorite book turned out to be “The Master and Margarita”. What more is there to say?

She would always bring some books of Russian classics in her shoulder bag. Also, she summarized those books she had read and kept on asking my opinion about each of them. I confess, I had not read half of her list, but I gave no sign. It was not that I was ashamed, but I felt some kind of discomfort. She, a modern Canadian woman, a child of Facebook, knew more about the classical Russian literature than me - a dinosaur, born in the USSR. Although I had read a lot of books in my childhood, it seemed that she was not impressed by Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and Jules Verne.

After an hour of pleasant conversation I realized that on the one hand, yes, she was a classic blonde- her behavior and manner of speaking were classically blonde- yet, on the other hand, her in-depth study of huge portions of Russian literature betrayed another nature. I appreciated her way of thinking in images, the beauty of her expressions and the subtlety of her jokes. And believe me, an interesting conversation with a pretty girl is not just a pleasure, it’s a feast of life! By the way, Wonder-Girl didn’t give a damn that I spoke English with mistakes; rather, she was exceptionally interested in listening to what I had to say. It’s a bit immodest, but the fact is, that sometimes I can be eloquent, even with my small assemblage of English words.

Also, this charming young woman told me, she was an artist, and added immediately that my opinion on her paintings was crucially important for her. I’m not a critic, of course, but have eyes to see. Wonder-Girl went online and found a page with her paintings. I scrolled slowly through them, one by one. At that moment she was like a boa – she fastened her eyes on me and seemed to be trying to catch any emotion on my face. It was difficult to lie, and it would not be right. I told her as delicately as possible: “It seems that there is something in these, but I wouldn’t hang them at home, it’s too conceptual, and I’m a bit conservative in art.” Well, really, what could I say on the topic of apocalyptic chaos interspersed with Karl Marx, multicolored blots and nudity on the brink of common sense? Everyone can offend an artist, so sometimes it’s better to keep silent.

It is believed that the artist conceives as well as paints, and sees the world as he feels it. It was sometimes difficult to understand what was going on in her head, but when I looked at her paintings, it was impossible. Yet, the carnival of color I saw in her painting was lightening in her eyes. I will repeat it again, it delighted and fascinated me at the same time.

Wonder-Girl said that if I didn’t mind, she wanted to meet up with me somewhere outside the office. She said that everything was “exceptionally interesting” with me! It was certainly flattering to hear that I was an interesting person, but it seemed that there was something else she liked, which I can’t take credit for- the corny fact that I was Russian. She said she would send a text, and I wrote down my phone number. I could suggest meeting anywhere I liked, but this I didn’t expect, that in the middle of a workday, without any notice, I would get a message: “Meet me at the entrance in 15 minutes!” I didn’t expect it, but honestly, I was not surprised.

* * *

Nothing brightens your working day more than the lunchtime. I came out into the street, stretched myself and turned my face to the sun, waiting for HER. Meanwhile, a wonderful picture of hustle and bustle of the city appeared before my eyes: buses passing by, columns of cubicle drones marching for lunch, someone selling sausages, someone writing parking tickets. In a word – life was flowing.

Only I was not in a hurry, standing on the shore and contemplating the surging crowd of the city.

Wonder-Girl turned out to be extremely punctual. As she had promised, 15 minutes after the message, I noticed my new friend across the street. Here, let’s brighten up the story even more, and imagine it as it would be in a movie: the noise of the city suddenly disappears, light music starts to play somewhere in the background, and then in slow motion, locks of blond hair flutter in the wind, a thin summer dress, hips swaying. Her smile was brighter than the sun, and she waved her arms: "Hi!" Yes, I definitely see you, I thought.

We were standing on different sides of the road, buses running one by one between us. Finally, the traffic light turned red, buses stopped, and she came up to me and spoke loudly, in the Canadian way.

“Hi!”
“Hi yourself. Good girl, I appreciate punctuality.”
“Is it ok that you left the work?”
“I have a lunch break.”
“And how long does it usually last?”
“I think we can have around one hour.”
“I see. We are short of time, come along.”
“If one hour is not enough, so maybe we should run?”
“No, come on, it’s nearby.”

I had no more questions for the moment. Where and why was I going? I had no idea. I could interrogate her, but what was the point?

“By the way”, said Wonder-Girl while we briskly walked, “the weather is appropriate today.”
“Appropriate?” Well, yes, such weather was appropriate for many things, perhaps, except for hockey.
“We’re not going to play hockey, are we?”
“We are not.”
“Good.”
“By the way, thank you for agreeing to come with me.”
“You are welcome...”

I “agreed"? When? On the other hand, I didn’t recall that I had refused either. So she was right, there was some kind of logic.

We walked side by side through the downtown: office buildings exchanged themselves with one another, as did roads and pedestrian crossings. We talked about many things, but especially about the "cultural and non-cultural differences in love relationships between guys and gals in Russia and in Canada. It was interesting for me and for her as well. She spoke on behalf of all females in Canada, but for me it was easier to illustrate my opinions by personal example. She listened carefully, somewhat surprised and doubtful; she didn’t seem to believe everything I said.

After ten minutes of this unpretentious walk we came to the Manitoba Legislative building. Wonder-Girl stopped for a second, looked around and asked:

“How do you like it here?”
“It’s beautiful here, but, actually, I’ve seen the Parliament before. Are we going to walk inside?”
“The Legislative. No, we’ll pass by and go ahead.”
“And there is only a river then.”
“That’s where we’ll go.”
“Are we going to swim?”
“No.”
“Oh, thank God, I can’t swim actually.”
“Really?”
“Particularly for you, I haven’t lied yet.”
“And you’re lying now?”
“I haven’t had time to lie yet...”

Not far from the river was a maze made of tall, perfectly trimmed hedges.

“We are going there”, said Wonder-Girl, pointing at the hedges.

Oh, yes. Of course we are.

“Are you sure? You will never hop the bushes in such a short frock, I tell you for sure.”
“And I’m not going to ram way through the hedge either. We’ll walk around on the grass. Frock. You do not cease to surprise me.”
“And you haven’t surprised me yet.”

Behind the bushes we saw the same green lawn. Wonder-Girl gently put her shoulder bag down on the grass and sat down next to it. Usually people sit on a beach in such a manner, just slightly leaning back and resting on their hands. She was silent for a while, squinting in the sun and thinking her own thoughts. When finished admiring the sun and the clouds, she stopped squinting, looked at me and slightly tilted her head. I have already told you about those eyes, how many things were reflected in them.

“Listen, I need to say something to you.”
“Ok, say.”
“Or rather to ask...”
“Well, go for it.”
“You know”, she began uncertainly, “I even don’t know how to ask you about it and don’t know what will you think of me after it. Well, how to say…”
“Say as it is.”
“You know, I love so much...”
“Wait, wait a second, let me sit down first too, as I'm not sure if I can listen to it while standing.”

I looked around involuntarily. The scene was wide: the middle of the workday, a park in the downtown, people walking somewhere, just a few meters away from us behind the bushes. There is something extraordinary in this feeling when you have no idea about what would happen in the next moment. I sat next to her.

“Well, you can talk now.”

Wonder-Girl was silent for a few seconds, looked straight into my eyes, as if she was deciding whether to say or not to say, but then she breathed out and spoke so quickly as if trying to say a tongue twister.

“You know, I love so much…so much Russian literature and here you are, a Russian.”
“Go on...”
“It’s just no good reading Russian literature in English translation. I feel that something is lost, something special, almost imperceptible, you know?”
“Yeah...”
“So, I realize that I will never be able to learn Russian so that I could read and understand the Russian classics in the original.”
“Uhuh.”
“That's why I called you here, I thought that if you don’t mind, then together we could...”

She reached out for the shoulder-bag, got out a book and handed it to me. It was a shabby small volume of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" in English.

“And what should I do with it now?”
“Could you... read it aloud for me?”

And her eyes suddenly looked like that cat’s eyes from Shrek.

“Tell me, darling, where is the logic? It is in English! You are competent yourself, aren’t you?”
“You don’t understand. I’m telling you, I will never read it in Russian and will not understand it myself, but if you read, I can listen to it with your beautiful Russian accent.”

If anyone else had told me this, I'd think that they were trying to put me on. But there was no other girl in her place, there was her and only her, and she seemed very sincere about it.

“So, why did we go as far as here?”
“It’s more romantic, and nobody will bother us.”

Would it be difficult for me? No, not difficult. Did it cost anything? No. So why not? I took the book and lay down on the grass.

“Which page to begin from?”
“Not important. Just read.”
“Well, come on, lie down next to me and listen…”

* * *

You know, we have a very short summer in Winnipeg, and when it comes, you never want to stay at home. You always want to go somewhere for a walk, ride a bike, or just lie on the grass in the park, swim in the icy lake, or admire girls in bikinis, still pale after a long winter.

Once Wonder-Girl and I had dinner at a cafe. We were not in a hurry. We chatted about life, and as we were finishing our second bowls of soup, she was looking out the window.

“Can you ride a bike?”
“Yes.”
“And you have a bike, don’t you?”
“Sure, even four bikes.”
“So, how often do you ride at least one of those?”
“Almost never...”
“I knew it. You are lazy and hopeless, like everyone else.”
“Actually, I often go roller-blading.”
“No, that doesn’t suit me. I just thought, maybe we can go for ride bikes together sometime?”
“Listen, when it begins to get dark tonight, I will come to the park and will be roller-blading. If you like, take your bike and come. You will bear me a company.”
“Ok, I’ll meet you in the park at sunset and keep you company.”

Roller-blading in the park in the evening is a special pleasure. Sometimes you come by car, get roller-blades out of the trunk, put them on and you can fly – it’s a real pleasure. Why in the evening? In the evening there are almost no people in the park, and most importantly - no small children running around.

Imagine a sturdy guy weighing 187 pounds flying at a high speed toward a bunch tots on the road, and you can’t slow down or even bail. You should see the eyes of the children’s parents. I saw, and I don’t want to again. So, what to do in such cases? You pin your arms to your sides in order not to break apart, turn sideways and fly away with a whistle to the wayside. And then, if you are lucky, you go head over heels over the grass, through bushes, and then fall face first into a ditch. This happened to me twice, and I will never forget it. Since the last time this happened, I go to the park only in the evening. It’s calm then, and at least I will remain unbroken.

It was getting dark. I was skating for half an hour, enjoying the silence and my lonely pride, when suddenly my phone squeaked "clink-clink" in my pocket. I fell on the grass in order to read the message: “Meet me at the entrance in 15 minutes!”

And she came. She was a surrealist picture; I was lost in admiration. First of all, her bike – it was huge. Perhaps her grandma rode it once on a date: big wheels, heavy frame and a high handle bar. She didn’t sit on it, it was impossible just to sit, Wonder-Girl perched solemnly on the bike, and she did so proudly and majestically. Her short white dress and bardic knee socks added a special charm to the picture.

“Darling, you look lovely!”
“Thanks.”
“Is it your grandmother’s bike?”
“No, it’s mine, stop kidding, please, we’d better go.”
“Well, we’d better.”

We had fun. When the road was going downhill I drew ahead, when it was uphill I put my arms around her waist. One of us protested, while the other one told Russian folk tales about the man with the impudent red face, the reason why good didn’t always conquer evil, and the story where the expression “one beats the bush, and another catches the bird” comes from. But most of the time we just rolled alongside each other.

“You go so fast and yet you aren’t out of breath”, Wonder Girl said.
“Why would I, it’s not my first time I’m roller-blading. I’m not a tadpole, I breathe well, and I don’t smoke.”
“Did you used to smoke?”
“Never, not even tried.”
“What about pot smoking?”
“I said never.”
“It’s not the same. There are a lot of people who do not smoke, but sometimes smoke pot.”
“Why the hell do I need it, what's the point?”
“Well, why does there always have to be a reason? It just lifts the spirits...”
“I don’t have problems with my spirits.”
“Well, it helps to relax.”
“And I don’t get nervous.”
“It expands the mind, sharpens the senses...”
“Only boneheaded people need to artificially expand their mind.”
“Boneheaded people?”
“Ok, look, if a person eyes are weak, he helps himself by wearing glasses, if he has a broken leg, crutches help, and when he is defective in imagination, he helps himself with weed. Healthy people, more-over healthy in the head, don’t need this. Weed is mostly for defective people who are not able to control their own brains, I do not regard myself to such people, and you?
“I believe that we should try different things in life!”
“Wow, brave of you! But I will pick your theory to pieces in one minute.”
“Please, don’t say that I should try to jump from the roof of the building. I know this argument.”
“Okay.”
“So, give me an example of what I won’t agree to try even though I knew that it would be good for me and would have no negative consequences.”
“Easily, what about having a sex with 34-year old Russian man in the park on a moonlight night?”

Well, I said it. Sometimes I speak faster than I think. Wonder-Girl was about to say something, but turned her back and fell to thinking. We just rolled along in silence for a while. Only the chirping noise of her old bike and sounds of my roller-blades could be heard in the silence. I had no idea what she was thinking about. Without turning her face to me, she smiled and said quietly:

“You proved a point.”
“Thank you, it wasn’t too difficult.”
“Listen, it’s so late. Could you drive me home? I need to go downtown, but it’s so far and I’m afraid to go alone in the darkness.”
“No problem, but what should we do with your bike?”
“Why won’t we take it with us? You have a car.”
“Your bike will never fit into my Honda Civic. There is no place inside for it, we can’t put it on top of the car, and only one wheel will fit into the trunk.”
“So, what should I do?”
“I have no idea. Leave it here until tomorrow and let’s go, I will give you a ride without your bike.”
“I can’t leave it.”
“And I can’t push it into the car.”
“Please, do something, I know you can.”
“Why so much confidence in my abilities?”
“Because you are Russian, and that means you will come up with something.”

This was a good point. Imagine Wonder-Girl, no, not Wonder, but Woe-Girl, so fair, so helpless, tightly gripping the handle bar of her monstrous bike, and looking at me with her - oh holy smokes - huge eyes, and waiting for some sort of unreal miracle.

“Ok, give me your bike then.”
“Just do not throw it away, please.”
“Don’t be afraid, I do not hurt little girls. Get in the car.”

I pushed the bike with its fore wheel into the trunk as far as possible, pulled the laces out of my jogging shoes (luckily each of these was meter in length), tied the bicycle frame to the trunk lid. It was not bad, really, better than I expected.

“I knew you could. You are special.”
“Man said – man did, tell where to go.”
“I’ll show you...”

We arrived at her house. I got out of the car and unloaded the bike. She got out too.

“Maybe I will help you bring bike up to your place?”
“I will call my fiancé, he will come downstairs and help me.”
“Oh, congratulations!”

Wonder-Girl came up to me, gave me a hug and put her head on my shoulder.

“Thank you for not leaving me alone at night in the dark park.”
“My pleasure.”

She took her bike and went away to the side of the house without turning around. A few days later she moved to Montreal. And since that time we have never seen each other again.



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