Pauls Bankovskis // Nevainīgās jaunavas [Innocent Virgins] // Stāsti: prozas lasījumi klātienē un neklātienē [Stories: Prose Readings - Present and Absent].
-Nevainīgās jaunavas [Innocent Virgins] // Stāsti: prozas lasījumi klātienē un neklātienē [Stories: Prose Readings - Present and Absent]. Riga: Dienas Grāmata (2006)
There was a girl I once had for just a few days. You might even say I didn’t have her at all. In the sense that she wasn’t mine and I wasn’t hers. We didn’t even get around to having sex. Just made out a bit. Went to the movies; saw a film with Johnny Depp; went to get pizza. That kind of stuff. And then she disappeared. Simply disappeared.
Her name was Daiga; it was written on the nametag on her uniform. She worked as a cashier at a supermarket. I noticed her right away. There are all sorts of different cashiers: nice ones and mean ones; tired ones and stuffy-nosed ones. Daiga was shy and quiet, with too much bleach in her hair and rosy rings under her eyes. I called her Racoon because of the rings.
Whenever I drove to the store, I always wondered if my little Racoon would be there. If she was, I took it as a good sign: I’d do well at work or I’d be a good day.
And then we hit it off somehow. I noticed that she had taken a liking to me too. She’d smile. Not an ordinary smile – with your cashier’s “hi” or “how are you?” – but a smile just for me. And then she’d blush. Later she told me that she’d even noticed my name – she’d seen it on my debit card and remembered it.
Daiga was from the countryside; her parents still lived somewhere up by the Estonian border. She’d come to Riga to study, but then started to work. She said that living in the city you could never have too much. And no, her parents didn’t know that she worked; or that she barely had time for her studies anymore. Things would work out somehow, she said.
She’d been hired at the supermarket as a trainee. I wanted to warn her that it was girls like her that kept those stores running. They’d hire you as a trainee; work you into the ground; barely pay you; then fire you and take another in your place. But I didn’t tell her. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings – it would shatter all her hopes and illusions.
Yet I didn’t come here to talk about her, but about the innocent virgins. Let me tell you about what Daiga told me.
“Have you heard about the virgins?” she asked me one day. We were in my car; I had picked up Daiga, and the question was probably connected to something playing on the radio. I don’t remember what was playing because I wasn’t listening. I was thinking about her.
“What virgins?” I asked
“The immured virgins,” she answered. And then she began to explain: “The girls talk about it all the time.” (She called the other cashier “girls”; it didn’t matter how old they were.) “The immured virgins. Construction workers immure an innocent virgin somewhere in the foundation or walls of new stores.
“There’re all sorts of rumours: For instance, that first they tried to make due with whores or bag ladies caught down by the station. But that didn’t really work; that’s why lots of the local supermarket chains folded so quickly.
“If you don’t immure a virgin, you won’t be able to build anything. Those who say right off the bat that they’re not going to immure anyone don’t even get as far as digging the foundation ditch. They just can’t make it in the market. That’s why those H & M stores haven’t come to Latvia. Or Ikea. And that’s why there was the big ordeal over finishing that store by the train station. Supposedly some of the ventilation pipes on the roof were too high and they didn’t conform to the original plans or something. But that was all nonsense. As soon as they immured a virgin, everything went ahead without any problems.
“Or what about the big department store in the Old City? Everything seemed fine: The store was open; lots of shoppers. But no virgin. And then suddenly there was that explosion. Supposedly they arrested some poor guy; threw him in jail; tried to prove he was guilty. But that was all just for show. The whole thing sure got the point across. Those Norwegians, or whoever owns that place, they don’t pick up on that stuff too quickly. But they were sure quick in finding a virgin and immuring her in the wall. That settled it. The Lithuanians have been a bit smarter. That’s why they’ve got shops now on every corner.
“But you can’t tell what’s going to happen to that place. They’ve started to build an addition that’s almost twice as big as the old building. The girls say they’ll need another virgin. The one already in there just won’t cut it.”
That’s what Daiga told me.
Then I drove her home. She made me some tea and we made out a bit. It was sort of awkward; when I tried to get under her shirt, she pulled away and told me not to.
“I don’t want you getting the wrong idea,” she said. “I want to save myself for my wedding.”
“What wedding? You planning on getting married? Are you seeing somebody else? Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“Not yet.” She looked away. “I’m waiting for the right guy.”
“Maybe you?” The Racoon smiled.
“Maybe,” I answered, though I had no intention of marrying her. I wasn’t about to go marry some supermarket cashier, even if she was pretty and had racoon-rings under her eyes. To believe in something like that – that business about immuring the virgins – you had to be pretty dumb; am I right?
I haven’t seen Daiga since that night. At first I hoped to meet her at the store, but I didn’t see here there anymore. When I asked the other cashiers, they said that Daiga had decided not to continue after her training period ended.
The construction of the new department store in the Old City is in full force. I read in the newspaper that there’s still room in Riga for at least four more department stores. So four more virgins, at least. Hard to believe it. Yet Daiga disappeared. And I guess she was a virgin.
I tried to find out something about virgins immured in the walls of department stores, yet I came up short – everybody pretended not to know anything about it. Even the police. I called up the representatives of the department store chains and went to a few offices, yet in the end I gave up; I don’t like when people look at me like I’m crazy.
At the library, I read through the tales and legends about virgins immured in the walls of churches and castles. I tried to imagine how they immure the girls in there: Do they kill them first? Or maybe while they’re still alive they stick them in a little cage and leave some food and water? I wonder what it’s like when you get immured: What does it feel like? What do you thing about? What’s your last wish?
Pushing my cart through the labyrinths of the supermarket shelves, I’ve noticed birds up by the ceiling. The songs from the radio fill the air, but I hear something more: peeping, chirping, and whistling. Sometimes it’s a sparrow; other times it’s a pigeon or a thrush. The bird flies over the cereal shelves and the cases of frozen food, then rises up to the ceiling and perches on the tangle of electrical wires and ventilation pipes.
I’ve never seen a bird fly in through the door of a supermarket. There aren’t any open windows in there, either. And then a silly thought flashes through my mind: What if those aren’t really birds?
Translated by Rihards Kalniņš
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