© 1999-2006 Anna Tchernakova

Anna Tchernakova.

Causes and Effects.

I.

I don’t know what other people think, but as for me, causes are inexplicable, effects are unpredictable.  It’s as if I were helplessly falling into a chute: nothing to do but to shout soundlessly “a-aa-aaa!”  Here is a recent example.

Friday afternoon, coming out of the library, I noticed a bicycle belonging to a man I had once known. It was parked right near mine, at the overcrowded bicycle stand.  For a moment I stared in stupefaction at its brake levers, mudguards, forks and reflectors, then got away, made a circle along the campus, and returned to leave a branch of jasmine in the bicycle’s carrying rack.

 

If somebody had stopped me to ask why I was doing it, I would not have been able to explain.  The sudden emergence of this too-well-known vehicle in an unusual place had astonished me.  Brimming over with memories, I looked for some gesture as for a bookmark to place between the pages, for I wanted to mark this stanza of life I saw beneath my eyes.  My flower had no purpose or meaning other than a confirmation of what had already been confirmed, and an evidence of the evident.  What I did was random and fugitive, and my flower was volatile.  It had no intention to be incorporated into the future.  On the contrary, every trace of my gesture was to evaporate before the next morning.  The illegitimate appearance of the bicycle in the space of my life provoked a strong gust of feelings, so what I performed was an instinctive movement to stop the draft by closing the door.

I should admit that there was an illicit pleasure in hanging around this prohibited two-wheeled ghost (an affirmation of the possibility of time-traveling).  My flower placed in the wire-cell under its saddle was an emissary to the unreachable past from my irrevocable present.

Yes, a provocation  - this is the right word to describe this bike’s behavior. ‘Specialized’ was its name, old and odd, with a high frame, peeling-off black paint, and a huge yellowish metal bell.  I had been in the library, and my modest but recognizable bike was openly waiting for me, when ‘Specialized’ owner arrived and parked in the unforgivable adjacency.  I would not be surprised if he even had touched my handlebars, trying to free space near the parking spot.  What was he looking for? Why had not he chosen another place - that lengthy fence just a few feet aside, or this lonely taximeter with no bicycles attached?  What did this bike want from me?  Its oafish presence broke the fragile harmony of a still summer afternoon, and was so undeniable that it forced me to react.

I should confess that when I returned towards “Specialized,” I did not intend to decorate it with any flower at all. On the contrary, a malicious plan to puncture its tires (or at least to open the valves) grew in my head.  Looking for something with a sharp point I saw a shrub near the wall. I thought it was a wild rose, whose thorns would have been perfect to perform the action I was thinking about.  Instead, it was a bush of jasmine in blossom. I did not want to give up and broke off the upper part of a young stem. It was not sharp enough. Its flowers were tenuous, almost transparent, and trembled in the air.

Was it a silent tremor of jasmine petals or a stroke of unreasonable tenderness towards the wretched bike that stopped my arm, already starting to unwind the valve’s cap?  Or was the idea about the destruction of tires just a pretext to leave a bunch of jasmine in the rack?  Where was a cause?  Whose was the affection?

One way or another, it didn’t matter as far as the flower was left on the bike and I was heading back home.

Only then it occurred to me that the “Specialized’s” owner did not know what my bike looked like.  I had bought a new one since I had seen him for the last time.  Consequently, “Specialized’s” appearance before my eyes was a pure and unfortunate accident.

II.

“Like cures like, and like things produce like effects,” an old book of the sacred wisdom says. This is the only causality I know and believe. Does it mean that the first accident will lead to another one?  I reckon that it works otherwise. The later curve redefines the one that precedes; an effect selects its causes; and every next lesson alters the name of the subject I learn. While happening, the story splits  - to explore all diverse possibilities of the plot.  Branched, the narrative becomes a tree, and spaces spawn, cramming the air. 

True as it is, this explanation cannot dissolve one question: what if it is I who again and again speeds up along the same road in a desperate attempt to change destination? What if it is I who forks at the wrong path again and again?

The next day after the flower had been left in “Specialized’s” rack, I took the longer route to pass near the place of the bicycle’s usual parking. “Specialized” was there, and so was my flower! Refused, fading, it lay in the rack like a piece of waste.

The earth quaked; my heart jumped; my hands shuddered.  My bike turned left, right, again left; then it slumped. I tumbled over the front wheel under a passing car. Brakes screaming, the car stopped within a hair’s breadth of me.  I was sitting on the asphalt, shivering.  I did not look at “Specialized” - what for?  Nothing was there but an absence, the very end of existence, a horror of the void.  People crowded around me; somebody took out a cellular telephone to call an ambulance.  I rose, picked up my bike and toiled away. Except for my heart being maimed, I was not hurt.

III.

Time slowly went by.  Memories of this episode vanished.  Even the sight of jasmine in bloom could not unsettle me anymore.

Once, in the middle of winter, when all bicycles and flowers were buried under the snow, I bumped into “Specialized’s” owner on the corner of the street, a few meters from the place of my summer failure.  Forced to greet each other, we exchanged random remarks on the politics and weather. We had nothing to talk about. He noticed the plaster still covering my left shoulder and chest. “What’s happened?” “A bike accident,” my answer was. I mentioned the turned-down flower.  He shook his head. “You never understood me,” he said with profound sadness.  “It was not your branch of jasmine. It was another one - for you. You made a mistake. You took it as a rejection, but it was love.”  “How could I know?” I said in astonishment. “Your jasmine was whiter and wilder, while mine was bigger and not so white. Well, it doesn’t matter now.” “Now it does not matter,” I agreed. We parted.

IV.

Swept off my feet by the waves of interfering spaces, I am mixing up years and flowers.  This one is another flower  (the third?), which has not resulted in anything so far.  Perhaps, it’s also another me, as well as another him.  Only the bike, the peeling-off  black-painted “Specialized,” is the same. The bike in which rack, last Friday, I left a trembling jasmine.

My intrinsic conviction that everything in this world is entirely meaningful has been weakened by the series of vain and preposterous events.  However, as a secret adept of Buddhism, I know that the best answer to eternal questions is a blow of a stick to the forehead. That’s when the enlightenment usually comes.  Until the moment of clarity one can do nothing, but hopelessly tie loose ends of causes and effects. Just as I was doing, looking through a glass door at the lonely white-shirted figure on the other side of the street. 

A mid-summer afternoon dimmed the outlines of things. The man was sitting motionlessly on the dark stairs in a shadow of an old university building. I strove to see his face, but he was too far. He could have been “Specialized’s” owner.  Even more, he could have been  “Specialized’s” owner waiting for me with a bunch of jasmine in his hand.  I was to find it out as soon as I would leave my ambush. I was scared it would not be him, and equally terrified it would be.

Somebody touched my shoulder. I turned around. It was a casual acquaintance, a man in a striped tee-shirt.  “What are you doing here?” he asked. “I am writing a story,” I said.  He looked at me suspiciously.  “Writing? What is it about?” “Well...”

He did not know that by dragging me into the conversation he was legitimizing my dubious, even forbidden, attendance.

“It’s a story about a flower and a bicycle,” I said in a husky voice. “Oh?. . .Very interesting. Good luck.” He had nothing else to say, grinned, took an escalator and was slowly lifted away.

It would have been more appropriate to say,  “I am re-writing.” How I treat the reality, affects it and restructures it.

...Two days later, “Specialized’s” owner was waiting for me near the place where my bicycle was parked. A remarkably gawky figure in a white loose shirt and sun-glasses, he was sitting on the Stygian stairs of the old university building with a branch of light lace-like jasmine flowers in his hand...

I don’t know who was sitting on the university stairs that smoggy afternoon.  I escaped from the building through another exit.  I preferred to invent my own ending rather than to know the truth. 

Besides, what is the truth? The truth doesn’t lie in between split spaces of our lives, where flowers and bicycles are hopelessly missing each other.  The truth does not reveal itself when I panic to avoid an encounter with the familiar silhouette, or when I purposely take a longer road to pass once more by the fence with the parked “Specialized.”

While waiting for the next blow of the teaching stick, I can, as usually, try to gain an insight myself, carefully placing episodes side by side on a flat surface. The technique is sedative, but this puzzle is never to be finished.

1996-2006