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the first

The yarmarka (farmer's market) is about to close. Some of the people are already packing up, offering their last bruised tomatoes at half-price to anyone walking past them.  I am wandering, staring at bunches of herbs, at the same old options - cabbage, pepper, potato, garlic, apple, cucumber. But then I see a pile of peas. The season must have come early this year. I buy a kilo, and some mint. I know what is for dinner. We have not had it in eleven months.

At home, I rip the bag open, showing them to V. She stands by the kitchen table, eyes wide. I crack one open, showing her the little rounds inside. She plucks one out, her pinky pointing to the ceiling.
"Try it." I tell her.
She does, but she does not like it.

I pull out a bowl for them. She jumps up and down a few times. V always wants to help in the kitchen. I pull her to my lap, and we begin pulling them out from the shells. She learns quickly, tossing them with a flourish into the bowl, a few cascading to the flo…

two rivers, three bells, one stone, a king, a tree full of wishes

During the last-minute packing I grab a thin book from the shelf, Rilke's The Life of the Virgin Mary. It is a first edition, bought at the Gotham Book Mart before they closed. A scribbled note to E's mother is tucked inside the jacket. My face hot with embarrassment, I do not read it. I crumble it in my hand and toss it from the balcony like that golden ruble I used to carry. I flits around in the dust on the cracked pavement.

I will force it out of my mind. I will fly away for a few days.
I will look out of windows.
I will feel N's head resting on my shoulder, and the gentle thump of the plane as it touches down.

Lermontov wrote about this place, Jvari. He was exiled to Georgia, and found inspiration in the people, the land, the water. He died shortly after he returned home.

There are angels here. There are yellow butterflies chugging in the sunlight. 

The rest have gone back to the car. I stay behind.

A man can hear his own footsteps here, I tell myself. 
Below, two rivers meet. Cicadas are buzzing in the tall grass. The wildflowers turn in the breeze, and I smell them, sweet and warm. Time has smoothed the corners of every stone, painted them with rain and dirt, with ice, with sun. 

I go inside the church and adjust to the cool darkness inside. Thin candles flicker, pressed into trays of white sand. Visitors trickle in and out of the great doors, passing beneath the unblinking gaze of two angels. A child dressed all in white is carried in on her father's hip. She will be baptized today.  I stand for a long time, drinking the place in. I think of Saint Nino, a brave woman, the woman this placed is named after. I think of N, her skin glowing in the fresh air, back home for the first time in years. I think of her relatives, and their fierce hugs, their generosity, their homemade wine, their long tables overwhelmed with food. I think of the old woman who calls out in the street below our window early in the morning, selling raspberries.
"Malina." She sings."Maaaalina."

I think of E, waiting for me to return. She has agreed to write a story that we can make into a little film, animating bits of plastilene, recording our voices. I wonder if she is making any progress. I wonder if we will be people, or if we will be rabbits in her story. 

Three bells hang outside. They make a funny little family. I try to imagine their sound, in this place older than old. 

The earth is covered in small stones. I lean down and find one, smooth and black, almost round and pocket it.

The path back down the hill is littered with beggars. A woman with a grey cat shades herself behind a sign, her hand thrust out into the sunlight. An old woman in black sits on a tiny stool, her grey hair falling from under a scarf. A man in a big hat gets up, and stretches his legs then sits back down, giving a musical shake to a can with coins in the bottom. 

I give something to each of them.

The narrow road twists wildly, as we pass cows grazing in between the trees. One bull is about to rest, flopping to the grass in a bright patch of sun. He looks like a king to me, with his giant horns and his nose in the air.

Some trees are covered in scraps of cloth. I ask N why and she says these are people's wishes.
"But how do they know what tree to wish on?" I ask.
"It doesn't matter." She says from the back, her hair whipping around in the wind. "Someone starts and then everyone else follows."


Annie said…
I want a picture of the tree with wishes. Those photos are so lovely.
Banker Chick said…
Beautiful pictures and words.
liv said…
What a fascinating and beautiful country!

I can see now how easy it was for N to fall in love with a man who can cook. I'm so happy that she got to go home and show you off...if only E could somehow be there, that would literally be the icing on the cake.
Ella said…
Beautiful writing!
A small correction. Lermontov was killed in a duel in the city of Pyatigorsk. He was a great poet.

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