Lives Journal 3

Iztok Vrhovec

 

A WALK

 

Little Anna once took a walk with her father. When they reached her favourite tree, where she'd had so many interesting talks with her grandmother and sometimes with her grandfather, the little girl stopped and looked at her father seriously. He knew something important was to follow. At least, a look of that kind usually implied serious conversation.

Anna was quiet for a few moments, and then went right to the point: "Daddy, why do we live?" Father flinched and gave his daughter a somewhat surprised look. He was taken aback by the question, he'd been expecting something special, but not so special. As if spellbound he stared at the little girl, and finally mumbled: "Yes, indeed...why?"

"What did you say?" Anna asked, for she hadn't quite heard what he'd said.

"I said...," the father tried again, "that... er..."

"Yes?" Anna encouraged him, eager to hear what he had to say.

But he couldn't put his thoughts into a sensible sentence. He went on mumbling, and then gave up, closed his mouth and silently stared before him.

"Grandfather says," Anna continued, "that it is all about realising that the human soul is the only thing that makes us human." The father flinched again. What thoughts from the mouth of his child, although they were grandfather's! Obviously, Anna was thinking about these things, so those thoughts were hers, too.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well, I don't know exactly what I mean...," Anna said, "but grandpa says..."

"I want to know what you think, Anna," he interrupted her somewhat sharply.

"Daddy, please, let me first tell you what grandpa thinks, then I'll tell you what I think. OK?"

"All right," the father agreed.

"So...," Anna continued, "grandpa says that unfortunately he – like all others – doesn't know for sure, but that everything he's figured out in the seventy years of his life  – well – that everything he's realised is just what I said before: that our soul is the only thing that makes us human. And that so few people..., please don't be mad at me for saying what I'm going to say now. It's what grandpa says, OK?"

"Go on, then," the father was impatient.

"Well, that so... er... darn few people realise it that it's giving him a darn headache," Anna continued, embarrassed. "That's what grandpa says. That most people act like wild teenagers. Which is all right for teenagers, they should be acting like teenagers, that is wildly, but later, when they grow up..., they never truly grow up... They're still... er... I'm going to use that word of grandpa's again, daddy...," Anna was explaining, looking at her father questioningly, but the man was absorbed in his own thoughts and he hardly noticed anything.

"Do go on, Anna," he said, "what does grandpa say?"

"Well," Anna continued, "he says that despite the fact that their bodies are grown, they're still so... darn childish, fascinated, grandpa says – he explained it to me, you know," she was explaining, "what the word means, for I didn't understand it at first. So, they' re still so fascinated by their hormones – he explained that, too, you know, what hormones are – so, that they're still so fascinated by their hormones and their feelings and their thoughts and everything that should be the consequence and not the cause of their existence." Here Anna stopped for a moment and took a breath, she'd uttered the last sentence so ardently and in a single breath, just as her grandfather usually did. At the same moment her father wondered whether it was a good idea for his daughter to spend so much time with his father. The ideas he was putting into her head, she was only a little girl, for Chrissake, shouldn't she be playing with dolls instead? But his flood of doubts was interrupted by Anna's voice; obviously the little girl had regained enough strength to go on with what grandpa thought. 

"So, well, grandpa says," she said, "that people forget they have a soul, and that they should first feel its impulses, listen to its calls, its sighs... and such things, I didn't understand everything he said, you know. If they listened to their soul, they could then assign their thoughts and feelings to their right place. And they wouldn't be rushing around like wild teenagers – although, I must repeat it–" Anna lifted her right index finger, and at that moment appeared like a strict teacher to her father, who was more and more uncomfortable, for a moment he felt like a school-boy and was overcome by old, half-forgotten emotions and thoughts he never knew still existed in him; he remembered a day at school years before, a very unpleasant day he never wanted to relive. At that moment, when he almost felt lost, he was struck by the releasing thought: I am this girl's father, and she's my daughter!

"Yes, Anna, all right," he interrupted his child in mid-sentence.

"But daddy, I haven't finished yet!" Anna frowned. "And then we said – in fact you wanted me to tell you what I thought... And I want to know what you think about all this and..."

"Well," her father interrupted her again, "I'll tell you right away what I think!"

"Darn!" Anna exclaimed, without hesitating before she uttered the word, which a little while ago she though she was not allowed to say out loud without permission. "I haven't finished yet! You're always telling me 'Wait for the other to finish before you speak', remember?"

"Of course I remember, but..." the father said less sharply.

"But – what?" Anna was adamant. "You also say," she quickly continued before her father could interrupt her again, "that the rules shouldn't be changed at random, and that the rules exist so that we can be equal, and not even the parents could change them at will. They, too, are bound by the agreed rules, remember? These are your own words, and mummy's, too. And I'm sure you remember you repeated them many times!"

Now it was the father who took a deep breath, and the moment of panic – in which he believed that his daughter wasn't supposed to think and talk about what she was thinking and talking about – passed. Of course he remembered his own explanations about the rules he'd been repeating so many times, aware that a situation just like the one happening right then might occur, when he'd get his rules served back. And now, when he calmed down, he rather liked what was going on.

"Yes, Anna, I remember, of course I remember," he said, "and of course you're right. I was confused for a moment... Do go on, say what you wanted to say."

Anna calmed down, too, and was happy that her father had come to his senses. "Well," she continued and scratched her head, "where was I?"

"You were saying that grandpa had nothing against the so-called wild teenagers," her father helped her out, smiling.

"Oh, right," Anna smacked her forehead and continued: "So – grandpa says that he has nothing against those slaves to their awakening hormones and rushing emotions and rebellious thoughts, he says it's the most normal thing in the world..., but then, what happens to most of them afterwards...," Anna took another deep breath and paused. Her father could see her shaking her head, sorting out her grandfather's thoughts and looking for the right words to express them. And she went on: "They remain right where they were in their puberty..., or else take a step back instead of going forward. They forget that they're people and that they have a soul. They hear nothing but their own thoughts..., and even those thoughts are often not their own, but some poorly digested mixtures they'd picked up from the TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. Grandpa says these things offer so much nonsense that the entire human race has been halted for centuries, if not for longer..."

Here Anna stopped again, shook her head and continued: "For centuries..., I can't imagine this..." Then she went on a little louder: "Well, whichever, I think he wanted to say for a long time, in any case for too long. He says that these things are so darn suffocating for the human soul that it's a miracle it hasn't moved to some other planet, and that he wouldn't be surprised if one day it really happened... And that we'll finally become, grandpa says, what we've been turning into so darn fast... puppets without a purpose, without being, without true desires, without... without soul, the only thing that makes us human."

It seemed that Anna had finished. She was silent, slowly nodding, then shaking her head. As if the thoughts related to the words she'd just uttered were playfully jumping to and fro in her head, and she were trying to keep the balance.

Nobody spoke for a while, and then Anna started telling her father what she thought. She said that she didn't understand everything, but that grandpa was being so persuasive when they were talking that she simply believed him. That she tried to talk it over with her mother and her classmates and her teacher and the parents of some of her friends, but nobody was as convincing as grandpa. And that, in what little she could understand, she agreed with grandpa, and the rest sounded probable, and in any case, "as I said before," she said, "it sounded the most probable and believable of everything I'd ever heard." And she added that she'd been surprised how little she'd learnt from all the adults she was talking to. "And it proves what grandpa was saying, you know," she nodded and gave her father a patronising look. "You should know a bit more about these things..., if you thought and talked about them more, instead of watching the soap-operas and reading gossip about who and with whom and where and at what time of day, and so on," Anna finally finished.

Now her father was overcome by pleasant feelings and squeezed Anna's hand.

"People pretend so much," he said, encouraged by his almost noble impulses, "that we soon look like dirty dogs..., and if we see someone who's not as dirty as we are, we are quick to call them dirty names. As if we were angry that they're not as filthy as we think we are."

Anna frowned and looked at her father.

"Know what, daddy, this sounds a bit silly..., to be angry at others and call them dirty when I'm dirty..., although, sometimes, when for example I paint and I don't wash the brushes or mix too many paints together I get some sort of dirty blend that doesn't look like anything, and then I get so angry at Maya who made a beautiful painting..., though I know that it was me who made a mess not Maya. Well, perhaps there is some meaning in your words. And – as grandpa says – when they sink in, I'll understand everything, right?" Anna seemed happy, she pulled her hand out of her father's and ran off.

"Let's play chase!" she shouted and motioned him to catch her. "You know, grandpa may be very smart, but he's not very good at chasing!"

"It's good to know that I am of some use," the father smiled and ran after his daughter. The words that were so fervently pouring out of her just a while before were still buzzing around in his head, waiting for some more appropriate reaction that he was capable of just then. Even when they were back home, when they had dinner, when he was brushing his teeth, when he said goodnight to Anna and lay down in bed, those words still wouldn't leave him alone. Only after he'd taken a deep breath, rolled over onto his side, rearranged the pillow and – just before going to sleep – he yawned, and those thoughts seemed to be laid to rest, too. Until a new morning, when his little Anna, if nobody else, would wake them up again.

 

 

Translated from Slovenian by Lili Potpara

 

 

 

Slovenian (gajica)

Slovenian (bohorichica)