Red phantoms

kpoe-recent

There were hordes of successful soviet ideologues, which made their career imitating fierce creative activity.
But it was not Zhanna case. She belonged to rare type of uncorrupted believers. She was person of sincerity and encyclopedia knowledge, but her eccentricity made her the scarecrow of the university. She expected from students who were fed up with Marx-Engels-Lenin staff and who studied dozens of other subjects, such as languages, world history, literary criticism, psychology and economics, she expected from them equal to hers devotion to material. In spite of all I could not help respect her.

When I was listening to her lectures on French revolution and Trotskyism, I even adored her. It was something enigmatic about this person. Her rapid walk, her gaze, how she used to throw register journal at the table in the other corner of the room, all revealed enormous suppressed force and passion.
I never accentuated her female qualities and could not dwell on idea that under formless dress she possibly had breasts and pubic hair, that as every woman she was vulnerable and perhaps had painful periods, record of aborted pregnancies and wish to be attractive for men.

What I liked in her had no gender and no physiology; it was pure fascination of spirit.Often I stayed alone in empty classrooms gazing at the old walls with ruined plaster, breathing smell of perspiration, chalk and mold, listening to how ash-trees brush their branches against windows, gazing at red spot of red scarf, forgotten by somebody in the first row of desks.

Once after wondering in labyrinth of empty corridors, I found way out and when shutting the door, spotted figure of Zhanna in the end of oak alley.
Without any additional thought, feeling curiosity, I accelerated my pace and followed her. It was strange to see her in the city. As she moved quickly forward in direction of council where she had quarters, I was looking at her behind.
She was in her usual drab loose dress, which hided her forms. Her hips were anything but womanly round curves. And she carried her paper case as weapon.
I was sure Zhanna was unaware of my pursue, but near council square she suddenly changed direction, as if shaking the spy off.
Now standing by exam room I felt dread from prospect to reveal my incompetence and helplessness to her. Books I had consumed at mad pace added little to my knowledge.

I lingered in corridor for so long, that occurred to be the last student unchecked. My record book soaked in sweaty palm, and golden emblem of university at the cover disappeared.
When I entered the room, professor was sitting by the window and writing in her journal. She gave me nod and pointed at the table with yellow and blue quadrates of examination papers, disposed in occasional order.
They looked like lottery tickets. If you win, you can proceed, if you lose, you must probably leave university.
I took yellow one, and tried to read, but hands trembled and letters danced in front of my eyes. I put paper at the table and then managed to read it, having no slightest idea what it was. Revolution? Assembly? What’s that? There was only nothingness in my head. Supreme anxiety brought me back to non-verbal state of humanity when speech as second signal system was not invented yet.
I was standing there in center of empty classroom at the verge of tears, and profile of professor floated, increased and decreased in the corner of my eye.
For me everything was over.
I was going to leave.
At this moment something clacked in my head and hollow spaces illuminated with blissful light. I saw room and bright enormous screen with letters vividly imprinted on it. It was store of my mechanical memory. I didnt try to recollect anything and didnt understand meaning of some words and phrases that I saw.
I simply read them, and these were right answers to my examination questions.
Zhanna chuckled with satisfaction and waved me at the place beside her.
I placed myself there, and continued report without slightest effort. My speech was informative and smooth and sounded as if it was prepared beforehand. I heard my own clear girlish voice, saw professors smile, her ear with small silver ring. I saw also two white courting pigeons at outer sill of window.
Then suddenly new sensation appeared in realm of my reality. It filled all with shocking presence. I did not trust my feelings asking myself what it was. Somebody’s knee was touching mine under the table.

Galina Toktalieva

Kyrgyzstan-born author residing in Graz, Austria

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