One Autumn Evening

One autumn evening I happened to be in a very inconvenient and unpleasant situation. I found myself penniless and without a roof over my head in the town where I had recently arrived and where I had not a single acquaintance.

Having sold, during the first few days, every scrap of clothing that I could do without, I left the town for the suburb called Ustye, where the wharves were. During the season of navigation the place seethed with activity, but now it was quiet and deserted—these were the last days of October.

Shuffling along the wet sand and examining it closely in the hope of finding some remains of food, I was roaming among the empty buildings and stalls, thinking how good it is to have a full stomach.

In our present state of culture the hunger of the soul can be satisfied more readily than that of the body. You wander through streets, you are surrounded by structures with pleasing exteriors and, you may be sure, agreeable interiors. This may start a trend of comforting ideas regarding architecture, hygiene, and other wise and sublime topics. You meet people suitably and warmly dressed—they are civil, they get out of your way, tactfully preferring not to notice the melancholy fact of your existence. Honestly, the soul of a hungry man is always better nourished than the soul of a well-fed man, a fact from which a very entertaining conclusion may be drawn in favor of the well-fed! …

…Evening was drawing in, it was raining, and a gust of wind was blowing from the north. It whistled through the empty stalls and shops, thumped against the boarded-up windows of inns, and under its blows the river foamed, its waves splashing noisily against the sandy shore, tossing their white crests, rushing into the dim distance, one leaping over the other. The river seemed to be feeling the approach of winter and fleeing in fear from the icy fetters with which the north wind could chain it that very night. The sky was heavy and lowering, and steadily exuded a fine drizzle. Two battered, deformed willow trees, and a boat turned upside down at their roots, stressed the elegiac sadness of Nature around me.

A boat with a broken bottom, pitiful, aged trees rifled by the cold wind…everything was ruined, barren, dead, and the sky was shedding incessant tears. Around me was but a gloomy waste. It seemed to me that soon I would be the only living thing amidst this death, and that cold death awaited me too.

And I was then only seventeen years old—a glorious age!

I kept on walking along the cold, wet sand, beating a tattoo with my teeth in honor of cold and hunger. Suddenly, as in my vain search for food, I rounded a stall, I noticed a crouching figure in woman’s clothes that were wet with rain and that clung to its bent shoulders. Standing over her, I tried to see what she was doing. She was digging in the sand with her hands, trying to get under one of the stalls.

“Why are you doing that?” I asked, crouching beside her.

She cried out softly and jumped to her feet. Now that she stood and looked at me out of her wide-open gray eyes that were full of fear, I saw that she was a girl of my own age, with a very attractive face which was unfortunately embellished with three large bruises. This spoiled it, although they were placed with remarkable symmetry: two of equal size under the eyes, and one somewhat larger on the forehead above the bridge of the nose. This symmetry evidenced the work of an artist who had grown adept in the business of marring human faces.

The girl looked at me, and gradually the fear faded out of her eyes.…She shook the sand from her hands, adjusted the cotton kerchief on her head, hunched her shoulders, and said:

“I suppose you want to eat, too?…Go on digging. My hands are tired. Over there—” she nodded in the direction of a stall—“there must be bread.…They’re still doing business at that stall.”

I began digging. After waiting awhile and watching me, she sat down beside me and began to help me.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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