by Robert Şerban (Romania)
Translation from Romanian by Philippa Lawrence and Silvia Bratu, MTTLC student
pentru versiunea română click aici
If it begins pouring with rain, when you’re waiting for the no. 8 tram at the stop next to the Abattoir, the only place to shelter is the lobby in the block of flats opposite. You reach this via a sort of pergola covered in vine leaves tunneling across the pavement. The trams seem to flash by like Japanese trains, therefore, if you’re in the lobby, you’ll miss them, unless you make a dash for it. However, the rain is faster than tram no. 8 which takes its time, especially on Saturdays and Sundays.
It’s raining cats and dogs today, streaking down like needles, with thunder and lightening and the tram is nowhere to be seen. I turn to look at the ground floor window on the left. That’s where Lili lives. She isn’t standing there watching the rain, as she usually does, though the curtain seems to be moving. It’s still coming down in buckets, so I go into the lobby and stare at the wall, at the list of residents: Saceanu Maria -Flat 1; Darie Ionel -Flat 2; Stoica Ovidiu -Flat 3; Professor Ovidiu -Flat 4; Vlad Georgeta -Flat 5; Soare Cristi -Flat 17; Udrea Ovidiu -Flat 18. Lili lives in Flat 2 – her surname is Darie. She’s the most beautiful brunette I’ve seen in three years – I’ve watched her growing up. She’s in her last year of school now, studying for university – almost a woman.
It’s still pissing down. The pavement is covered in puddles and vine leaves, which look like bisque. A fat woman is checking her handbag. So am I, surreptitiously and I feel like laughing, wondering what in the world I might see in it. She takes out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter – a fat woman smoking a cigarette. Lightening flashes across the sky. An old lady with a black scarf on her head gazes with a faraway look at the woman smoking. Her big eyes have a kind expression, and she looks near to tears. It might be the smoke.
I hear the tram coming. The fat woman heads for the door, sucking one last puff from her Winchester cigarette. The old lady has awoken from her reverie and is lifting up the raffia bag she had leant against the wall. It’s 8.0 o’clock and absolutely pouring down. I let the two women go through the pergola tunnel which is painted in Irish green, and get ready to run for the tram a dozen or so paces away. I rest my body on my left foot, slowly lifting my right heel but the way ahead is blocked. Lili is running towards me through the tunnel, probably having gotten off the tram. She’s soaking wet, the T-shirt clinging to her body, her hair silky black. The tram doors have closed – next stop, Olimpia.
Lili comes into the lobby and shakes herself like a cocker spaniel, showering water around her. She’s beautiful. She looks at me while poking her fingers through the small opening in her mail box trying to feel if there’s something in it. Is she hoping for some letters? Does she have a boyfriend? She takes a step backwards, closing one eye while looking through the slit in the mail box. She has leant forward at an angle of 45 degrees, without bending her knees. She can tell I’m watching her. Women always know when they’re being watched – the fat woman knew the old lady was looking at her.
Lili’s expression becomes sulky. She is looking for something in her handbag, which is only slightly bigger than a wallet. Taking out her keys, she chooses the smallest of them and opens her mailbox. It is empty.
‘The postman doesn’t come on Mondays’, I tell her.
‘I’m waiting for my phone bill’, she answers locking the mailbox door.
‘Phone bills come around the 15th. Today’s the 4th.’
‘Oh, you’re right. Are you looking for someone?’
‘No, I’m waiting for the tram.’
‘Why didn’t you take that one?’, Lili asks.
‘I can’t run. I sprained my ankle’, I lie. Lili looks at my feet.
‘Your left or right ankle?’
‘I have an excellent ointment. I play volleyball and often sprain my ankles. This ointment is really great. I live right here so do come in.’ I’m swallowing, my eyelids twitching. Lili opens the door of Flat 2 and leads the way. I breathe in the smell of her wet hair.
‘Please don’t take your shoes off. You can sit in here on the armchair or the sofa’. The living room is decorated in an unsophisticated style: Persian carpet, glasses and china ballerinas in a plain display cabinet. An ornately framed landscape picture hangs on the wall to the left.
‘I’ll go and change. I’ll be right back. Do turn on the TV’. I search in vain for the remote control. My eyelids are twitching. I see a stain on the ceiling. I hear the water running in the bathroom – or the kitchen. I hear the doors of a wardrobe squeaking, then squeaking again.
‘Here’s the ointment. It’s Hungarian’. Lili is wearing a skimpy blue and white dress. The hollow sensation in my throat has reached my stomach. Lili is kneeling in front of me, sitting on her heels. She takes the cap off the tube of ointment, squeezes it slightly and some yellowish cream spurts out. Lili is looking at me.
‘You’re too tense – relax! Stretch your leg out a bit’. Pushing up my trouser leg she touches the back of my right calf with her index finger, then with her middle finger as well. She applies gentle pressure, while rubbing it in a spiral motion. Her right hand is on my left shoe, her cheek brushes my knee. I’m breathing heavily through my mouth. My lips are dry. I take deep breaths. Lili’s right palm runs instinctively up to my left thigh, then over my stomach as her long fingers spread out to touch my breast through the bra.