Pauls Bankovskis // Eiroremonts [Eurorenovation],
-Eiroremonts [Eurorenovation], Riga: Valters un Rapa (2005)
“Miracles don’t happen anymore and there is no visible opportunity to maka a pile of money all of a sudden without an effort.” Kārlis Ulmanis, 1928.
“And is it not you, television, who shows me the skidding of the wheel of time?” Ojārs Vācietis, “Zilais ekrans”, summer of 1969.
I THE PAST
“The Mission.” “Butterfly on a Wheel.” From the album “Carved in Sand”
because I cried, unavoidably and sobbing, as back in childhood, I cried as all Latvians, just like you, my dearest, rain drops flowed over the windshield outside, tears flowed on the inside, I felt feelings long forgotten returning, the past lost several decades ago, lost time, and with it I felt myself returning, that self whom, I think, I have known so long, yet I considerably exceed the speed limit on this unrepaired and bumpy road section and risk with my terribly rusty second-hand car hitting the roadside pole or flying off into the gray flowing river, my dearest, or there might have appeared a new pothole on the road which I will not notice early enough in the dark; save a second – lose a life, something like this was written way back on educational posters and match-box labels which we in childhood so ardently collected and pasted them in scrapbooks; as soon as I drove unto the bridge I felt the cold Baltic Sea wind, my dearest, - without the least mercy it grabbed in its palm the delicate car shell and tried to blow it aside into the oncoming lane, but I cried, just as in the song that you liked so much, in the “Iron wolf” song, where they sing about the city at night in neon lights that “caress tears”, my dearest, and I tried to evade my own eyes because I don’t like tears, I cannot bear them, I try to look aside, away, I cannot bear even mine, let alone yours, my dearest, therefore, don’t reproach me for usually looking at the tip of your nose, or your ear lobe where the ear is pearced for the earring, because seeing the tears of another person I always feel that something shrinks smaller and smaller within me, dries up on account of the tears and so I don’t understand why memories about the same events appear intolerable or simply laughable to some but to another provoke uncontrollable flood of tears, but you know very well, dearest, I can’t stand tears, crying people, in general I don’t want to see them more so if someone is crying for me, because to cry for me - is almost like mockery, useless waste of tears, and even less I want to watch when the weeper is myself, because who would have imagined that all will end so badly, my dearest, that I will be driving here alone but you will no be any more, will not be next to me, I wanted to say; and city lights were reflected in the river, reflected just like in the fall, I will think, because those were autumn reflections at a time when wind blown clouds open up and cover up the moon; but it is just as possible that it is depression, yet men don’t dare admit it; on the radio “The Mission” sang about love that breaks butterfly wings and about mandolin’s wind, about every angel’s dream, about love that heals the successfully broken wings, tears just poured, I snivelled, I cried, heck that boys don’t cry and the strong never tell lies, although it is possible that you don’t know the group “The Mission”, and you don’t have to, all that was too long ago to make any sense to explain, memories from my punk and goths’ years, from the eighties of the XX century, from the times of smeared mascara, of messy tinted black hair and smeared lipstick, do you hear, the rhythm gradually grew more intense, drums joined vigorously the electronic touch and the cold guitar chords, and the missionary continued, continued the song about the wise men, who knows, only in war and love the end justifies the means, and it is possible that long time ago people felt something similar listening even to the same Bach’s Matthew’s Passion or who knows what in those dark ages, when as song texts were used lines from Holy Scriptures and composers did not worry their heads about how to get into the 70 minutes of a compact disc as many as possible of 2 minute works, because probably then there was more time, I reasoned, and therefore that which now can be said in two and a half minutes could be stretched out to take up two and a half hours, may be that is why I also cried, because at that moment I realized that it will never be like that again, and there was barely half an hour left to September 12, 2001 and then after fifteen minutes I will be 30 years old, and honestly, I still don’t know whether I should be telling you all this, or, since the described events almost a year has passed, yet single images, even scents, tastes and sounds come back more striking than the obtrusive sounds, smells and scenes that follow me and haunt me here and now
I will begin with the incident at the cemetery although this funeral has little to do with the descibed events later on. The deceased was my classmate Uldis and, quite naturally, almost all of the graduates of our class from old Sigulda’s eighth-grade school had come to attend the funeral. Except Valdis but no one, of course, even hoped to catch a glimpse of him. The atmosphere of a school reunion in the cemetery was diluted quite a bit by the official funeral guests – they were in a depressing majority. Members of parliament and ministers, representatives from the municipality and business men, non-government organization activists and the press. Unfortunately six months ago Uldis was elected to the parliament and became the highest achiever from our public school graduating class. Because Valdis now is rarely remembered. The pleasure of reunion, evaluating the disasters time had done to the girls from our class and comparing indications of prosperity that our boys had achieved, was spoiled by the furtively circulating information among the funeral guests about the actual cause of Uldis’ death. Of course, nothing like that appeared in the first page news of “Diena”, and the authors of obituaries also managed with the same old and through generations tested indifferent phrases, yet the funeral guests one and all already new. Sexual excesses. It was told that Uldis was found suffocated with a plastic bag over his head. Completely nude. Ambulance was called by two women, you know yourselves what sort. And there is more to it. Real orgies had taken place. The other participants, people connected and witnesses, including two body guards from a well known security firm, escaped before the police arrived. Before that the whole jolly company was seen living it up in the “Lido” complex. Several opposition party faction parliament members or minors were also said to be involved. One service weapon was not recovered at all. A very unpleasant incident and ugly slur could hit the security firm and the ones they guard - parliament members and, after all, even the supermarket chain whose label decorated the fatal bag.
An awfully hot and humid day.
The minister also was one of ours. In the beginning Emil dreamt of becoming a rock star. He looked a hybrid between Bono, Kurt Cobain and Johnny Rotten. He messed around with various groups, yet he never learned to sing coherently, nor to play any musical instrument. Disappointment and rebellious feelings were compensated with booze, nerve tablets, amphetamines, home made poppy brew, and finally, probably even with glue, the bright blue window washing fluid, eau de cologne and shoe polish spread on bread. He tried cutting veins several times but there was nothing left of him to be cut. He got into the loony bin. But there is no evil without some good – he escaped the Russian draft.
I remember once I met Emil near the Oši small family gardens. Late in the autumn. Mud and wet snow all over. He was crawling around the wind torn plastic sheet huts to see if there were any browned poppy stems sticking out. And later when I went to visit him the whole apartment, no, the whole house, starting already from the stairwell, smelled of acetone. Since that time I never went back. Nothing can be done to save him, I decided.
But amazingly Emil came through. Got mixed up with the Krishnas, I heard that he had left for the USA and was working as a painter. Probably there he became a Christian. He returned, enrolled in the Faculty of Theology.
Now he stood at the end of the coffin. All in black. Not in the usual long cassock, but in a short jacket with a slightly tucked-in waste. With a small beret on his head. Well, just like Bono in the mid-eighties. Hasn’t got rid of the rock star dreams yet.
In the chapel the Bible was read monotonously: “And after I saw the night, and look, the forth beast was dreadful and ferocious and very strong and it had large iron teeth, it ate and smashed and crushed what was left with his feet, and it had a different face from the other beasts that had been before him, and it had ten horns.”
Nobody paid attention to the text. And those who heard did not understand and could not figure out what kind of a beast it was, what horns, and what connection has it all with the deceased. The coffin was pushed into funeral home hearse, the car exhausted the smell of gasoline, the procession plodded on deeper into the cemetery away from the shady and moss-gathering past into the sun drenched and desert-like new burial grounds. Hot wind blew into the faces of the darkly dressed mourners. It tugged at Emil’s blond locks.
Our class has never had a reunion yet. We are too inert. No real community spirit. No common interests. Except funerals. Uldis was the first. If we don’t consider Valdis.
The coffin was placed near the grave; Emils moved to the end of the open grave and scanned the guests. The heat became unbearable yet there was no smell of decay. Probably the autopsy and embalming methods nowdays have improved and the mourners don’t have to douse themselves, nor the deceased, with perfume “Šiprs”, just like before a cremation. Emil’s gray face reflected indifference. Something treacherous glittered in his eyes and at the same moment I realised that tears they were not. It was glittering, something like an oily film that separated him from all of us, from the world. For a moment our eyes locked. Dark rings under his eyes. He understood that I have noticed, have guessed, the golden gates had never slammed shut, he had returned and continued to tug the dragon by the tail, nothing had ended. I knew this zombie look too well. In my innocence for three years I had denied noticing it ( but about that not now). It began to appear that all around there are only the dead. And it is a known fact that the dead cannot get new friends. The dead, as opposed to the living, are not subjected to any changes, no adventures.
At such moments, willingly or not, one begins to think if one is still alive or not. And if not, to think at least according to our modern point of view – feel. Suddenly Emil turned away, from his black coat pocket pulled out narrow frameless sunglasses and hid himself. The bright blue sky and pine tops were reflected in the black lenses. The hand returned to the pocket and searched for something. The lips were pressed together. I knew what he had there. Probably rolled in a little ball the treasure. My Precious. Hope and promise.
Quickly Emil stretched out his hand and took the wooden cross from the grave-digger. Lifted it and stuck it next to himself in the sand pile. Holding on, no, leaning against the cross as if on a sword prepared for battle he once more studied us. Maybe it just seemed that he smiled. Our class rock star. The voice sounded metallic and shrill. It seemed that he hated us. All that linked him to us was death.
The sand sounded hollow on the coffin lid. By the end of the hymn the grave was filled up. An uncomfortable silence fell.
- Relatives and friends, - Emil raised his voice and then paused
significantly. Some looked scared. – Your flowers. And wreaths, please.
All headed for the freshly heaped grave mound and nobody, except me, noticed Emil’s nervous look after the desperate “Please.” Only a hardened drug addict is capable uf such cynicism at the time of death, flashed through my mind. He took off his sunglasses and horrified looked all around. Gray, he was drenched in sweat. The hand feverishly searched the pocket.
The rest you probably have heard.
The funeral feast entirely eclipsed whatever suspicions and gossip about Uldis’ infamous end. Either still at the cemetery or already in the car Emil got his desired dose and in the rented restaurant arrived more subdued and unconcerned, his lips displayed eternal peace but eyes again were hidden by the black glasses.
All took place as expected at such times. Cake first, cabbage after that. Until the moment when with a short speech his party and faction member Juris B. wished to honour the diceased. The speech of the deputy was interrupted by Emil’s shouts and general hubbab.
- Don’t you really see? Don’t you really have eyes? – He shouted. Either by trying to control Emil or in some other way the tablecloth with all the dishes was pulled off the table. The candles fell over, something even started to burn. Women screamed. Some funeral guests even at the other end of the hall jumped to their feet – Don’t you really see that this is not meat what you are eating and this is not wine you are drinking? Muck and slops, muck and slops, muck and slops ...
Emil’s shouts did not cease until the ambulance people arrived. Again he was taken to the psychiatric hospital. Next day the doctor told me that this time for a longer time. Unusually strong loss of reality caused by alcohol, amphetamins and “acid”.
- Acid? – I aked, because I did not understand what he meant.
LSD. In English it is called a bad trip, - the doctor chatted understandingly in the mouthpiece. And added that in his practice he had never experienced anything like this. – The minister ia a real walking drug cabinet.
As I said, these events have rather an indirect link with all that follows. Only meeting my old class mates that summer after a rather long time obviously caused me to remember Valdis.
I remember, the funeral coud not be without the compulsory question:
- Have you heard anything about Valdis?
And the usual answer followed:
- No. And quite a bit of time has passed.
Translated by Astra Roze
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